[by Matt Goldberg, Director, Jewish Community Relations Council]
This past week saw the death of a remarkable man, one of the titans of universal civil rights, Nelson Mandela. World leaders and dignitaries from around the world gathered in a large stadium in Johannesburg to praise this President Mandela, who had too many admirable qualities to enumerate, but one I would like to touch on is forgiveness.
Most people are familiar with President Mandela’s (and the entire nation’s) efforts to reconcile with their oppressors, and it was touching to see all sectors of a multi-cultural and multi-racial South Africa celebrate his life. But I was particularly touched by a story I read recounted by Abraham Foxman, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League.
The relationship between the Jewish community and Nelson Mandela has had its high points and not so high points.
Jews, of course, were prominent in the Anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and a Jewish attorney gave Mandela his first legal job at a time when whites simply did not hire black people for such professions. Mandela often spoke of his close relationship with members of the Jewish community who contributed so profoundly to the cause of a free South Africa. But there were complexities as well.
Mandela also was close with Yasser Arafat and was a strong proponent for the Palestinians, even calling Israel at one point a “Colonialist” regime. Conversely, Israel had a fairly close military relationship with the Apartheid regime.
As Foxman recounts, a delegation of American Jewish leaders met with Mandela in Geneva in 1990 and, because of these issues, the delegation did not know what to expect … but they were in for a pleasant surprise.
At this meeting, Mandela explained that when he was in prison, Arafat gave him support and he needed all the support he could get. He also said that he understood why Israel would have a relationship with Apartheid South Africa, as they were boycotted by most of the world at the time and needed all the friends they could muster.
Mandela then told this group of Jewish leaders, “I’m not angry at you and Israel because Israel was dealing with the apartheid South African government, … Therefore, don’t be angry at me because I was dealing with Castro and Arafat. If you can understand that, we can go forward.”
Mandela also expressed his admiration for David ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and Menachem Begin, and expressed support for Israel’s right to security and to be free from terrorism. These leaders left with a firm belief that Mandela endorsed the Zionist enterprise and the “rights of a Jewish state in the Middle East.”
While there are some out there who to this day call Israel an apartheid regime, they should follow the lead of this great man who, while never abandoning the struggle of the Palestinians for a nation of their own, recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security as a Jewish state and expressed admiration for their leaders.
It is with gratitude that we express our appreciation for the entire Jewish community of Louisville who so generously donated over $3,000 for typhoon relief in the Philippines, a nation that is still devastated by a destructive Typhoon that hit several weeks ago. The Jewish community, both here in Louisville and around the world, always responds to disasters such as this; and the Joint Distribution Committee is on the ground right now coordinating these efforts.
And it is not just the charitable arm of the Diaspora Jewish community that is there. As in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, Israel was first on the ground with emergency relief and medical services. Countless babies in both Haiti and the Philippines are named “Israel” because they were born in Israeli field hospitals in the wake of these natural disasters.
It is not too late to donate to this cause. If you send your contributions here or make a donation online at www.jewishlouisville.org, we will forward the money to the relief agencies.