Menu JTA Search

South African Jews Bristle at Mandela Stand on Zionism

A leader of the South African Jewish community has spoken out forcefully against statements on Zionism made this week in Oslo, Norway, by African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela.

Mandela, who was attending a conference there on “The Anatomy of Hate,” was asked by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel to clarify his views on the 1975 U.N. resolution denigrating Zionism as a form of racism.

“If Zionism means the right of the Jewish state to retain the territories, which they have conquered from others, to refuse to deal with the acknowledged leaders of the Palestinians, in particular with the PLO; if the Jewish state has decided not to allow the Arabs in the conquered territories to exercise the right of self-determination; if protest demonstrations by the youth of the Arabs are met with brutal oppression, then of course we condemn Zionism in the strongest terms,” he said at a news conference outside the conference ballroom.

He then added, “If Zionism, as I believe, means the struggle by the Jewish people for their national home, for their own state within secure borders, then Zionism is a very commendable movement, which we all would like to support.”

His statements got a chilly reaction from an Israeli government official present at the conference. “I expected an unequivocal repudiation” of the Zionism resolution from Mandela, Health Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying.

Here in Johannesburg, Solly Sacks, national chairman of the South African Zionist Federation told reporters that the entire South Africa Jewish community was “distressed” by Mandela comments, which he called “totally off the mark.”

“Israel is the most colorblind society in the world, made up of Jews from every corner of the world,” he said. Zionism, he said, is not a racist movement but the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

The Oslo conference, which began Sunday and ended Wednesday with the release of a declaration against hatred, was sponsored by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

The Persian Gulf crisis was a recurring theme of the conference, even though it had been planned long before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait

Yelena Bonner, a veteran of the Helsinki human rights monitoring group in Moscow and a widow of Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, said the focus on the crisis in the Persian Gulf had waylaid the conference from its original goal: to dissect hate and examine ways of addressing the problem.

She spoke about the need to discuss racism anti-Semitism, nationalist dissension and economic upheaval in the Soviet Union. “A lot of the talk here is just meaningless platitudes.” She said.

NEXT STORY