These days it looks like the national bird of Israel is the crane. You see them everywhere, putting up all kinds of structures – including museums, high- rises, and most especially, hotels. As much as they try, the cranes are having trouble keeping up with demand. London-based Euromonitor International reports that Jerusalem is the world’s single fastest growing tourist destination. Tourism totals for Israel have soared, with sharp increases from countries like Poland, Germany and Sweden. New streams of tourists are arriving from Nairobi to Tokyo.
All of this means that many millions are experiencing Israel without the filters of BBC, CNN or MSNBC. They may not be able to solve the Palestinian conflict, but they will see enough to know that labeling Israel “apartheid” makes as much sense as calling drug cartels “pharmaceutical executives.”
But you need to do more than just land at Ben Gurion airport to understand the conflict-you actually have to sit down with Israelis—Jews, Druze, Christians and Muslims- to check all the facts on the ground— something apparently that Mandla Mandela, the grandson of Nelson Mandela failed to do during his recent visit. He chose to meet no Israelis but still declared that “Israel is the worst apartheid regime” and called for South Africa, where he is a member of parliament, to cut all ties with “apartheid Israel.” He was shown what the Palestinians wanted him to see, and listened only to their narrative.
Dr. Abraham Neguise, a black African who is a member of Israel’s Knesset, wrote:
Every time you use the term Apartheid so frivolously you chip away at the memory of a regime that terrorized South Africans for decades. By comparing Israel to Apartheid, you do not harm Israel as much as the memory of your people’s sacrifice for freedom and liberty. Such banal and hackneyed comparisons sully this sacrifice and undermine one of the greatest struggles in modern history.
So the real question is: What would Nelson Mandela say?
Would he, having seen a place where blacks, who along with other people of color, sit alongside with whites in busses, learn together in university classrooms, have representatives in parliament and sit on the country’s supreme court, denounce such a country as an apartheid regime? Replace “blacks” with “Arabs,” and “whites” with “Jews,” and you are looking at the real Israel.
As for the walls that were installed to stop ongoing suicide terror attacks against Israeli civilians in their homes, in pizza stores, discos and Passover Seders, young Mandela should address it by their proper title: The Hamas Walls. Their terror birthed the defensive move that has saved countless Jewish, Christian and Muslim lives.
Had Mandela junior remained true to his grandfather’s legacy, he could not call himself a BDS supporter. Mandela senior was the hero of the defeat of apartheid, and the iconic champion of reconciliation between whites and blacks. He languished in jail for 27 years for his beliefs, but led the new South Africa without rancor or bitterness. He never warmed to Israel, recalling its trade with the apartheid regime. (Israel did about $200 million a year worth, while the U.S. was doing $3.4 billion; Japan – $2.9 billion; Germany- $2.8 billion, and the U.K. – $2.6 billion. Virtually all of its oil came from Arab states). Yet, Nelson Mandela was fair and balanced. He wrote, “As a movement, we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism…We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders.” He never would not have called any “apartheid” regime legitimate. Nor could he have supported BDS, about which As’ad AbuKhalil, a California State University professor of Political Science, wrote, “The real aim of BDS is to bring down the State of Israel … this should be stated as an unambiguous goal.”
While Mandla Mandela’s behavior is unfortunate and disappointing, that of the UN is consistent and predictable. The UN General Assembly’s “Special Political and Decolonization Committee” recently voted in no less than nine resolutions attacking Israel in one day. They passed no resolutions denouncing Israel’s neighbors for abuses of civilians, or gas attacks on their own citizens. Just a few days ago, the General Assembly could not muster enough votes to finally condemn Hamas as a terror organization.
As the saying goes, sunlight is the best antiseptic. Many millions more tourists will experience the unvarnished truth in The Holy Land in 2019, and in the future many of them will reject lurid UN resolutions, and oppose the extreme anti-Semitic anti-Israel BDS campaign.
It is a shame that Mandla Mandela, unlike his grandfather, to close his eyes, ears, and heart to the people of Israel. No peacemaker is he who empowers the forces of intolerance, violence and terror.
*This post is co-authored by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Director of Interfaith Affairs