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My prime minister accused me of siding with Iran

Netanyahu should learn from Mandela's generous leadership, when it comes to handling those who oppose him
Nelson Mandela and Zelda La Grange, his personal secretary. (via X, formerly Twitter)
Nelson Mandela and Zelda La Grange, his personal secretary. (via X, formerly Twitter)

There is plenty to regret about South Africa, pre- and post-apartheid. But if there is one aspect which arouses my recurring envy, in these days of increased divisiveness which is motivated and encouraged from above, it is the magnanimity of the blacks when they took over. How can anyone with a South African background not compare the discourse there then to the vile mudslinging here?

Upon his departure on Sunday night for his trip to the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, inter alia, that the protestors joined forces with the PLO and Iran. He naturally ignored polls which indicate overwhelming opposition to the judicial overhaul and growing dissatisfaction with the government. Instead, he chose to accuse, and to divide, in order to rule.

It is me he is accusing, along with countless former colleagues, almost every former head of the security establishment, attorneys-general, academics, leaders of hi-tech (the backbone of the start-up nation on which he prides himself, and which is the engine of what has been an outstanding economy). He trashes hundreds of thousands from all walks of life who have taken to the streets since January, when his government showed us that it is planning to set Israel en route to theocratic authoritarianism, with helpings of homophobia, racism, and annexation.

He is not alone in this discourse — his ministers draw on a wellspring of slurs. We have been designated anarchists, traitors, pus. There have been calls to put us on trial, and hints at execution. Did we sell state secrets? Attempt to blow up infrastructure? No, we merely object to the destruction of everything that was built here these past 75 years, in order to keep our indicted prime minister out of jail, while serving ultra-Orthodox and messianic agendas.

And now for South Africa of the ’90s. Most of you have not heard of Zelda la Grange, but you might know about Francois Pienaar.

Zelda was a 24-year-old secretary in the presidency when newly elected president Nelson Mandela arrived in his office in Union Buildings. It is said that he saw her crying, as she assumed she would be losing her job. This was a reasonable assumption for an Afrikaaner from Pretoria, who served the outgoing apartheid regime. Mandela put his arm around her, assured her that her position was safe, and she was subsequently to serve him for 20 years, as one of his closest confidants.

Pienaar was the captain of the Springboks, South Africa’s rugby team. To the extent that sport can be identified with a group, soccer was played by Blacks, cricket by the British, and rugby was the sport of Afrikaaner South Africans, racists and rulers. Mandela, a long-time prisoner of that regime, could be forgiven for not being a fan. I dare you not to cry when you see Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s film about Mandela’s presence at the Rugby World Cup Final, wearing a Springbok jersey, as he lifts the cup together with the captain.

There is no need to remind readers of decades of discrimination against non-whites, including deprivation of basic rights such as voting, separate areas of housing, less education, and so on. Yet since Mandela, the official approach has been – and yes, there are glitches – we are responsible, do not blame the whites.

And here? Variations on the current ruling party have been in power almost continuously since Menachem Begin’s victory in 1977, and have had the wherewithal to close any perceived gaps and handle any presumed past injustice. Instead of solving problems and dealing with issues, the prime minister and his henchmen point fingers at an imagined elite, and lay blame on those who enjoy some unknown hereditary privilege. If Mandela showed us conciliation and inclusion, Netanyahu is the master of hostility, of enmity, of divisiveness.

And, in a magnificent manifestation of chutzpah, after having thus incited against us, he will undoubtedly refer to our demonstrations in his appearances in America, to point to the vibrancy of Israeli democracy, which he and his cabinet appointees are doing all in their power to disparage.

About the Author
Tova Herzl served twice as congressional liaison in Washington DC, was Israel's first ambassador to the newly independent Baltic states, and took early retirement after a tumultuous ambassadorship in South Africa. She is the author of the book, Madame Ambassador; Behind The Scenes With A Candid Israeli Diplomat.
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