South African Jewish leaders are criticizing Nelson Mandela, saying he bowed to Muslim pressure in retracting a statement he made last month supporting the American-led war in Afghanistan.
In an address in Durban’s West Street Mosque, the former South African president expressed his support for the Afghan war and the hunt for Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, indicating that he agreed bin Laden was a terrorist.
Last week Mandela backtracked, even apologizing for his stance. He said it was incorrect to label bin Laden a terrorist because a court had yet to find him guilty.
Russell Gaddin, national chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said his reaction was one of “sheer disappointment. Political expediency has overtaken” Mandela’s values.
Mandela will travel around South Africa next month to improve relations with South Africa’s Muslim community.
Mandela’s retraction followed a series of meetings between South African Muslim leaders and senior government officials, including Deputy President Jacob Zuma and Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad.
Envoys from several Muslim countries also asked South Africa’s Foreign Ministry to explain Mandela’s stance on the Afghan war.
As part of the government’s campaign to the Muslim community, Zuma visited the West Street Mosque shortly after Mandela’s retraction.
Zuma accused the United States of using double standards to define terrorism. He attacked the West for thinking it had a monopoly on defining terrorism, when its own activities were viewed as terrorist.
“It is an act of terror when planes are crashed into buildings, killing people who are quarreling with no one,” he said. “As a response to that act, when the U.S., Britain and allies launch an attack on Afghanistan and innocent people are killed, that is not terrorism.
“As an individual, I cannot understand that thinking,” he said.
The opposition Democratic Alliance sharply criticized Zuma’s comments, saying he had given the impression that the government now supported bin Laden.
“Thousands of people died on Sept. 11, 2001, in what can only be described as a cowardly attack in innocent civilians in the U.S. This is what terrorism looks like,” said a member of Parliament from the Alliance, Joe Seremane.
Meanwhile, a committee of Muslim clerics has been formed to interact with Mandela and government leaders on the Middle East.
Muslim youth movement leader Moulana Rafeek Shah said his organization would encourage Mandela to play a more active role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.