JOHANNESBURG (Aug. 3)
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe appeared on television over the weekend to clarify a remark he had made the week before that was widely considered overtly anti-Semitic.
His explanation, however, is likely to leave at least some Jewish observers in the region less than satisfied.
Speaking in Shona, the language of the largest tribe in Zimbabwe, Mugabe told viewers on Zimbabwe television that he had no intention of offending the Jews of Zimbabwe or anywhere else.
Mugabe had made the offending remark a week earlier, during a visit to peasant farming regions in western Zimbabwe. The peasants were complaining that white farmers had refused to allow their livestock to graze on private lands, despite drought conditions in the area.
"Commercial farmers are hard-hearted people. You would think they were Jews," Mugabe reportedly replied.
During his subsequent television appearance, Mugabe said his comment had referred to "hard-hearted" settlers on Israel’s West Bank, whom he had likened to commercial farmers in Zimbabwe.
He explained that in his view neither group was prepared to concede land. The commercial farmers in Zimbabwe would not permit cattle belonging to tribespeople to graze on their land, while Jews on the West Bank were not open to Palestinian settlement.
Observers say this anti-Zionist stance is in line with Mugabe’s policy since taking power.
Mugabe’s original remark elicited a flood of protest from Jewish groups both from within southern Africa and from abroad.
The Jewish leadership of Zimbabwe subsequently requested a personal audience with Mugabe, but he has not yet responded.
The Sunday Times of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, has reported that Catholic groups — including the Commission for Justice and Peace and the Bishops’ Conference — expressed sympathy and solidarity with the Jews of Zimbabwe, describing the reported remark as "careless."
In addition, several prominent non-Jews have written letters of protest that were published in the Bulawayo Chronicle.
The televised speech was made in Mashonaland, where Mugabe was accompanied by Palestine Liberation Organization Ambassador Ali Halimeh. The PLO has in the past provided aid to the Shona tribespeople.