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Mandela Gets a Standing Ovation at South African Jewish Conclave

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African National Congress President Nelson Mandela was greeted with a standing ovation when he delivered the keynote address at the 37th national congress of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

The warm welcome he received when he appeared before the gathering here last weekend was viewed as a moment of reconciliation by many who had repeatedly criticized Mandela’s much-publicized embrace of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat shortly after the ANC president’s release from prison in 1990.

Amid the deafening applause from the hundreds of Jewish delegates gathered to hear his remarks, Mandela affectionately embraced Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel — and then had another warm hug for the South African Zionist Federation’s chairman, Abe Abrahamson.

Tickets to hear Mandela’s address were gone within an hour or two of when they went on sale, and hundreds had to be turned away. And when the event began, the large ballroom at the fivestar Carlton Hotel could not accommodate all the guests, who overflowed into adjacent corridors.

“I want to state in the most unequivocal terms that the African National Congress has stood firm against anti-Semitism, as it has stood firmly against all other forms of racism,” Mandela told the gathering.

“It is our belief that all citizens should be protected against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. Our track record on this score is there for anyone to examine,” he said.

DISCUSSES TIES WITH PLO

Mandela said that the ANC supports the granting of basic civil liberties to all citizens. He also underscored his party’s determination to maintain freedom of religion and the separation between church and state.

“The suggestion that an ANC-led government could ever indulge in or connive at anti-Semitism is a scandalous slander inspired either by sheer ignorance or malice,” he said.

Mandela acknowledged that the ANC’s relations with the PLO have been of concern to Jews in South Africa and abroad; he said the ANC had discussed the matter with the American Jewish Committee.

“As a movement we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as Jewish nationalism. We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders but, with equal vigor, (we) support the Palestinian right to self-determination,” he said.

“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 wish to encourage the process and, if we have the opportunity, to assist.”

But Mandela said the ANC was “extremely unhappy about military cooperation between the State of Israel and the apartheid regime” here.

“The refusal of Israel, over many years, to honor its international obligations to isolate the apartheid regime did influence our attitude toward that government,” Mandela said.

He urged the Jewish community, in its relationship with the ANC, to focus on shared goals in South Africa.

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