Nelson Mandela’s harsh attack on Israel at the start of his three-day visit to Australia has angered and alienated Australian Jewry.
The deputy president of the African National Congress likened Israel to a “terrorist state” and reiterated his often expressed solidarity with the Palestine Liberation Organization at a news conference on his arrival in Canberra on Tuesday.
“We identify with them because we do not believe it is right for the Israeli government to suppress basic human rights in the conquered territories.” Mandela declared.
He accused Israel of “slaughtering defenseless, innocent Arabs.”
In response, the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies withdrew from an ecumenical service at which Mandela will be honored.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the umbrella body of Australian Jewish organizations, announced it had no plans to participate in any functions honoring the anti-apartheid leader.
Mandela’s remarks seemed likely to shatter the delicate truce he reached with the American Jewish leaders he met in Geneva on June 10, shortly before his visit to the United States.
On that occasion, Mandela said he was sorry if any of his past statements on Israel had offended Jews. He said he hoped to visit Israel soon and looked froward to good relations between Israel and the new democratic state that would soon emerge in South Africa.
The Geneva meeting, described as “warm, friendly and cordial,” was credited with averting protest demonstrations against Mandela by American Jewish groups during his U.S. tour.
Yet in the United States, Mandela dismayed Jews sympathetic to his anti-apartheid cause by public references to PLO leader Yasir Arafat as a “comrade in arms.”
‘SLAUGHTERING DEFENSELESS ARABS’
He told the Australian news media, “We agree with the United Nations that international disputes should be settled by peaceful means. The belligerent attitude which is adopted by the Israeli government is to us unacceptable.”
Mandela said the ANC does not consider the PLO a terrorist group, adding: “If one has to refer to any of the parties as a terrorist state, one might refer to the Israeli government, because they are the people who are slaughtering defenseless and innocent Arabs in the occupied territories, and we don’t regard that as acceptable.”
His comments were denounced by Gerry Levy, president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies.
“His claim that Israel slaughters the defenseless and innocent is not only unacceptable and offensive, but totally untrue,” said Levy.
Leslie Caplan, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said his own struggle against apartheid, which began 30 years ago, would not diminish. But he did not equate the cause of the ANC with the cause of the blacks of South Africa, Caplan said.
Mandela meanwhile said he “unreservedly” supported Zionism insofar as it meant a Jewish state within secure borders. But he opposed Zionism “when it meant deprivation of human rights in the occupied territories.”
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.