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For Nelson Mandela, Israel Presented Conflicting Feelings

Image: For Nelson Mandela, Israel Presented Conflicting Feelings
Former South African President Nelson Mandela walks on the 6-million piece mosaic floor on which the names of Nazi concentration camps are written at the Heroes Remembrance hall at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial center, in Jerusalem 18 October 1999. (Daoud Mizrahi/AFP/GettyImages)

By    |   Thursday, 11 Sep 2014 11:05 AM

Global peacemaker Nelson Mandela, who worked to end apartheid in South Africa before becoming the country’s first black president in 1994, had a complicated relationship with Israel. Conflicting feelings centered on Israel’s support of the apartheid regime and Mandela’s loyalty to the Palestinian cause.

“Mandela always strove to be scrupulously fair to both sides, even though his inclination was very much towards the Palestinian side,” David Saks, the associate director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said, according to the Times of Israel. “He was deeply supportive of the Palestinian struggle for independence, but never deviated from his view that this could only be attained through all parties recognizing Israel’s legitimate right to exist within secure borders.”

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Mandela’s loyalty to Palestinians and his repeated call on Israel to withdraw from Arab lands occupied since 1967, remained a point of contention till his death in 2013. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to attend Mandela’s funeral, citing the cost of travel, and President Shimon Peres said he would stay home because he had the flu, according to Haaretz.

Mandela, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his efforts to end apartheid, didn’t make an issue of Israel’s support of the apartheid regime.

“His whole attitude — to everything — was not to look for vengeance and not to dig up the records in the past, but rather to work for a reconciliation and to look forward,” Gideon Shimoni, the former head of The Hebrew University’s Institute of Contemporary Jewry, told the Times of Israel.

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During a 1999 visit to Israel, Mandela explained his position this way: “To the many people who have questioned why I came, I say: Israel worked very closely with the apartheid regime. I say: I’ve made peace with many men who slaughtered our people like animals. Israel cooperated with the apartheid regime, but it did not participate in any atrocities.”

Still, Mandela remained firm in his support for Palestinians, whom he identified as the victims of injustice and gross human rights violations.

"We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” Mandela said during a 1997 speech in for International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people.

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Global peacemaker Nelson Mandela, who worked to end apartheid in South Africa before becoming the country's first black president in 1994, had a complicated relationship with Israel.
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2014-05-11
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