What did the late Nelson Mandela say about Israel and Apartheid? Even before Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to attend the memorial service for Mandela, the Internet was abloom with information planted on the shifting sands of incompetent fact-checking.
Let’s start with Netanyahu’s decision and work from there.
Over at Haaretz Bradley Burston opined that there was a special place in Hell for Netanyahu, who is widely known as “Bibi” by friends and foe alike. According to Burston, by cancelling his planned trip to the “Mandela funeral as too costly, Bibi shows world what he's truly made of.” Burston added that “Israel's prime minister proves he is not the smug, petty, vindictive, waffling, in-your-face insulting man he seems. He's something worse.”According to Burston, Netanyahu’s snub shows that Netanyahu “does not consider a man like Nelson Mandela, or a nation like South Africa, or the sentiment of an entire world, worth the price of a plane flight.”
In sending this message, Benjamin Netanyahu has treated the passing of Nelson Mandela as he does every challenge in statecraft: He has addressed one problem by creating another.OK. Harsh. But a fair (if blistering) commentary. Note that essayist Burston is putting sentiments into Netanyahu’s mouth, so please, please do not repost this text as if it was actually said by Netanyahu. More on that sort of problem soon.
His message is clear: My Israel, which spends untold tens of millions on such matters as bolstering and protecting settlement construction during peace negotiations with the Palestinians, or erecting detention facilities for African asylum seekers rather than formulating coherent and just refugee policies, has nothing left over for this man Mandela.
But that's only the beginning. With a wink and a nod to the settler right, the academic rabid right, and the KKK-esque far right, Netanyahu is sending an even stronger message:This is where I stand on this Palestinian-lover, Mandela. And this is where I stand on his Palestinian-lover heirs.
Now let’s address what Mandela actually had to say about Israel and apartheid. There are numerous post across the web where Mandella is quoted as calling Israel an apartheid state just like South Africa under White rule. Except, that quote is a hoax. Hold that thought; and before you post comments that I am a lying tool favoring the oppression of the Palestinians (which I am not) please read the rest of this post.
Mandela’s actual words in 1993:
The ANC`s relations with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation have been a matter of concern for many Jews, not only here but also in other parts of the world. It was an issue we discussed when I recently met the American Jewish Committee.WAIT!
As a movement we recognise the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognise the legitimacy of the Zionism as a Jewish nationalism. We insist on the right of the state of Israel to exist within secure borders but with equal vigour support the Palestinian right to national self-determination. We are gratified to see that new possibilities of resolving the issue through negotiation have arisen since the election of a new government in Israel. We would wish to encourage that process, and if we have the opportunity, to assist.
The ANC, in common with the international community, was extremely unhappy about the military cooperation between the State of Israel and the apartheid regime in South Africa. The refusal of Israel, over many years, to honour its international obligations to isolate the apartheid regime did influence our attitude towards that government.
However, as my distinguished predecessor and colleague, the late Oliver Tambo, stated in Lusaka in 1989, we ask you, in your relationship with the ANC, to focus on our shared goals in South Africa. As South Africans we should avoid being drawn into conflicts and tensions arising from the agendas of others beyond our shores.Address by ANC President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, at the opening of the 37th Congress of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies 21 August 1993, Carlton Hotel, Saturday
Please read the rest of this post.
I know there is a quote on the Internet attributed to Mandela stating:
Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular, waged a war against a civilian population, in particular children.It is a hoax quote. Mandela never wrote it and he never said it. And the person who wrote it apparently did not intend it to be be mistaken for real.
The responses made by South Africa to human rights abuses emanating from the removal policies and apartheid policies respectively, shed light on what Israeli society must necessarily go through before one can speak of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and an end to its apartheid policies.
Where does the quote come from? Let's pick one explanation for the story:
Fake Mandela Quote...
Dexter Van Zile
July 2, 2012
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is currently holding its biannual General Assembly (GA) in Pittsburgh, Penn. The GA committee charged with dealing with issues related to the Middle East is faced with 14 proposals, most of them dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Violence against Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria does not feature prominently in the resolutions before this committee. A list of the resolutions before this committee can be found here. (Click on “Committees” and then click on Committee 15 – “Middle East and Peacemaking Issues” and you will see links to all the overtures before the committee.)
One overture (15-01) before this committee accuses Israel of practicing apartheid. This resolution, introduced by the Presbytery of Muskingum Valley in Ohio includes a damning quote attributed to former President of South Africa, Nobel-prize winning Nelson Mandela....
There's just one problem. Mandela never said it. The quote was in fact written by Arjan El Fassed, an activist affiliated with Al Awda, which the ADL describes as a “grass roots organization that opposes Israel's right to exist.” The original article in which the quote appears can be seen here. For more background about how this quote falsely attributed to Mandela, has been used by anti-Israel activists, see this brief report by Richard Landes.
The article by Dexter Van Zile appears on the website of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. The name of the group is unintentionally irionic, since the Committee has a well-deserved reputation for fanatical pro-Israel bias.
There is another problem. While I am not a big fan of Arjan El Fassed, it needs to be mentioned that his “Mandela’s First Memo to Thomas Friedman” was sent around at a time when Friedman was writing sardonic columns containing similar concocted conversational bits. To not mention that Arjan El Fassed has repeatedly explained how the Mandela quote escaped into Internet truthiness is just not fair.
Here is the editor’s note currently posted on the Electronic Intifada website:
Editor’s note, 28 June 2013: This article was written by Arjan El Fassed in 2001 in the satirical style then being employed by Thomas Friedman, of writing mock letters from one world leader to another. Although it carries El Fassed’s byline, it has been repeatedly mistaken for an actual letter from Mandela. It is not. It is a piece of satire and has never been presented by EI as anything other than satire. El Fassed has written this history of the piece and how it subsequently was mistaken for a real letter, on his personal blog.According to the website, “Arjan El Fassed is a Dutch-Palestinian political scientist, human rights activist and is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada.”
As for the Presbyterian Church (USA), it deserves the criticism for the use of the hoax quote, but in recent years the national church leadership has revisited its stand on the Mideast and developed a more sophisticated approach that seeks to bolster efforts for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
So Dexter Van Zile’s post has truthiness but not completeness. In addition, Van Zile passes the reader onto a post by my colleague Richard Landes, whose work on apocalypticism is as brilliant as his bigotry toward Islam and the Palestinians tarnishes his reputation. Richard and I don’t talk about the Middle East anymore.
That’s part of the problem.
Almost every conversation we have about Israelis and Palestinians and conflict in the Mideast rapidly descends into flame wars including personal attacks and threats and even a few physical attacks. This is true even on college campuses, where civil discourse should be the norm. I am not naïve about the problems in the Middle East, but shutting down debate only makes matters worse.
A few years ago Kenneth Stern of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and Cary Nelson of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a joint letter warning about the chilling of free speech on college campus where debates over US policies in the Middle East should be welcomed. Stern and Nelson primarily were directing their concerns at government agencies that claimed authority to sanction incidents of antisemitism on U.S. college campuses.
What happened? The letter by Stern and Nelson was repudiated and retracted by the American Jewish Committee, and the original page containing the letter on the American Association of University Professors was deleted. Ken Stern was silenced by the American Jewish Committee. This is shameful, as is the lack of meaningful and appropriate action to support open discussion about the Middle East, Islamophobia, and antisemitism by the US Civil Rights Commission and the US Department of Education.
Tough issues need courage not cowardice.
Go back and read what Mandela had to say in 1991. Here is a man of integrity choosing his words carefully, not avoiding controversy, being firm and yet seeking a peaceful resolution as the clear priority. There is a reason Mandela is being mourned around the world.
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A study coordinated by Chip Berlet, Constructing Campus Conflict, Antisemitism and Islamophobia on Campuses in the United States, is currently slated to be published by Political Research Associates in 2014.