The world today mourns the passing of one of its greatest citizens, one of its most famous freedom fighters, its most famous political prisoner, and one of its most courageous human rights leaders.
Nelson Mandela transformed the nation of South Africa. After spending a third of his life as a prisoner of apartheid, Mandela mastered forgiveness and achieved peace as the country’s first black President. His generous spirit and the symbol of sacrifice he represented will continue to captivate the global society for years to come, and his legacy and true values must be protected.
To that end, as I read the articles and tributes being circulated about the passing of the great Mandela, I came across one that left me puzzled. Its title: Nelson Mandela: An Israeli Hero.
In it, the author, Naomi Chazan, writes that Israel shared a special connection with Mandela. She expresses the view that his values became embedded into Israeli society, particularly in the areas of combating and overcoming racism. In one part, Chazan writes:
“The success of the struggle against racism in South Africa drove home in Israel – as elsewhere – the message that it is possible to resolve seemingly endless conflicts when there is a will to do so.”
The problem is, there is no will in Israel to do so. According to polls conducted in Israel, the majority of the Jewish public want preference for Jews over Arabs in admission to jobs in government ministries. Almost half the Jews want the state to treat Jewish citizens better than Arab ones; 42% don’t want to live in the same building with Arabs and 42% don’t want their children in the same class with Arab children. A third of the Jewish public wants a law barring Israeli Arabs from voting for the Knesset and a large majority of 69% object to giving 2.5 million Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank.
I was shocked to read such a piece, one that only belongs in a satirical publication such as the Onion. I have consistently expressed my longing for a true and real peace in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but find this attempt to equate Mandela’s values with those of Israel to be somewhat disgusting. Mandela has long been a proponent of Palestinian freedom, and in a parody letter to Thomas Friedman, this is how he would have expressed his condemnation of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.
“The Palestinian state cannot be the by-product of the Jewish state, just in order to keep the Jewish purity of Israel. Israel’s racial discrimination is daily life of most Palestinians. Since Israel is a Jewish state, Israeli Jews are able to accrue special rights which non-Jews cannot do. Palestinian Arabs have no place in a “Jewish” state.
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.”
Let us make sure we remember Mandela for the values of justice he stood for. Forgiveness is essential, but so is the recognition of past mistakes, and Israel has a long way to go to come close to embodying the values Mandela stood for, one of which is this:
“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
Until next time…