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South African and U.S. Leaders Dismayed over Mandela’s Remarks

March 2, 1990
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Leaders of American and South African Jewry who have been in the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement are urging Nelson Mandela to reconsider his recent remarks equating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with the struggle of South African blacks.

Those who only two weeks ago hailed the African National Congress leader’s release after 27 years in South African prisons were taken aback by the embraces he exchanged with Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat in Lusaka, Zambia, on Tuesday.

More disturbing were his remarks in a speech at Lusaka airport.

Like foes of apartheid, Mandela said that Arafat “is fighting against a unique form of colonialism, and we wish him success in his struggle,” Mandela was quoted as saying.

At a news conference Wednesday, he reiterated his support of the PLO.

Asked whether such remarks might alienate South Africa’s 100,000 Jews, who are prominent in that nation’s business elite and in the anti-apartheid Liberal Party, Mandela retorted, “If the truth alienates the powerful Jewish community in South Africa, that’s too bad.”

He added, “We expect everybody who is exploring the possibility of lasting solutions to be able to face the truth squarely. I believe that there are many similarities between our struggle and that of the PLO.

“We live under a unique form of colonialism in South Africa, as well as in Israel, and a lot flows from that.”


The South African Jewish Board of Deputies said Thursday that it wanted to meet with Mandela to explain why it was wrong to compare the Palestinian struggle with the black liberation movement.

Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said he was dismayed and angered by “the deplorable statement by Nelson Mandela to Yasir Arafat.”

Schindler said that Reform Jews and millions of Americans who oppose apartheid “will repudiate his comparison of Israel with South Africa and his support of the PLO, which has typified violence and terrorism in our time.”

Sholom Comay, president of the American Jewish Committee, said that during his long imprisonment, Mandela “became an international symbol of freedom and justice. His recent statements on the PLO and Israel, however, are inconsistent with these values.”

Israel responded with a low-key statement from Jerusalem, released by its Consulate General here Thursday.

“Israel, as is known, supported Mandela’s release throughout the years he served in prison,” the statement read. “Any meeting with Arafat, the leader of a terrorist organization which is brutal and violent even against his own Palestinian fellows, cannot contribute to the advancement of the principle of justice and equality.”

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