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South African-israeli Relations Get Boost with Mandela’s Visit

South African Jews are welcoming former President Nelson Mandela’s plans to visit Israel, expressing hopes that it will augur well for South African-Israeli relations.

Mandela is expected to arrive in the Jewish state from Tehran next week in time to lunch with Israeli President Ezer Weizman on Monday.

On Tuesday, he is scheduled to meet Foreign Minister David Levy, after which he is expected to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

He will then travel to the Gaza Strip to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Mandela said he is making the trip because of recent progress in the peace process.

“We are confident that his visit will make a significant contribution to the relationship between South Africa and Israel,” said Ze’ev Luria, political counselor to the Israeli Embassy in South Africa.

Among those expected to accompany Mandela are South African Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris; Russell Gaddin, national chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies; and Marlene Bethlehem, national president of the board.

Harris said he believes the visit is a gesture of approval for Barak’s approach to peace negotiations.

Mandela is “going to see for himself, however briefly, the astounding progress Israel has made in 50 years, and I think this will help the balanced stance of the South African authorities.”

Harris, who is a close personal friend of Mandela, hopes that the former president will accompany him to the Western Wall.

Gaddin said the Jewish community of South Africa is now hoping that the country’s current president, Thabo Mbeki, will make a similar trip.

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