Mandela Foundation pushes back against reports that Mossad trained anti-apartheid leader

Israel/Palestine
on 13 Comments
A young Nelson Mandela with Ethiopian General Tadesse Birru. (Photo: BBC via Mayibuye Archives)

A young Nelson Mandela with Ethiopian General Tadesse Birru. (Photo: BBC via Mayibuye Archives)

The Nelson Mandela Foundation has pushed back against a Haaretz article claiming that the Israeli Mossad trained Mandela while he was in Ethiopia drumming up support for the armed wing of the African National Congress.

The foundation, which was created to be Mandela’s post-presidential office, “has not located any evidence in Nelson Mandela’s private archive (which includes his 1962 diary and notebook) that he interacted with an Israeli operative during his tour of African countries in that year,” the statement said.

The foundation’s statement lead to another Haaretz article that reaffirmed the news outlet’s initial findings.  The back-and-forth is the latest struggle over Mandela’s relationship to the Jewish state.

Last week, Haaretz published a startling report: that a 1962 letter sent from the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, revealed that Mandela was trained by covert Israeli agents. Discovered by an Israeli researcher named David Fachler, the letter was sitting in Israel’s State Archives.

“As you may recall, three months ago we discussed the case of a trainee who arrived at the [Israeli] embassy in Ethiopia by the name of David Mobsari who came from Rhodesia,” the letter reads.  After Mandela was arrested by the South African apartheid government, the Mossad realized that Mandela was the person they trained. He was reportedly “familiar with the problems of Jewry and of Israel” and was interested in the methods of the Haganah, the pre-state Jewish military force that eventually became the Israel Defense Forces.

After the Haaretz article was published by Fachler and Ofer Aderet, the Nelson Mandela Foundation released this statement:

Media have picked up on a story alleging that in 1962 Nelson Mandela interacted with an Israeli operative in Ethiopia.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation can confirm that it has not located any evidence in Nelson Mandela’s private archive (which includes his 1962 diary and notebook) that he interacted with an Israeli operative during his tour of African countries in that year. Both the diary and the notebook were used as evidence against him in the 1963-1964 Rivonia Trial for sabotage.

In 1962 Mr Mandela received military training from Algerian freedom fighters in Morocco and from the Ethiopian Riot Battalion at Kolfe outside Addis Ababa, before returning to South Africa in July 1962. In 2009 the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s senior researcher travelled to Ethiopia and interviewed the surviving men who assisted in Mandela’s training – no evidence emerged of an Israeli connection.

Haaretz then followed up with a second article detailing the process by which they found and revealed the Mossad document, which was classified within the State Archives but was recently published after the first article came out.

In the aftermath of Mandela’s death earlier this month, much ink has been spelled on his statements in support of Palestinians and statements in support of Israelis. For instance, Mandela expressed admiration for Menachem Begin’s struggle against the British, the country that ruled over Palestine before Israel was created.  But he also was a strong supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s struggle against Israel.

The newspaper Israel Hayom joined the fray on December 9th, reporting that newly released documents showed that “the Israeli Foreign Ministry tried to convince South Africa’s apartheid regime not to seek the death penalty in Nelson Mandela’s 1964 trial.” Israel’s support for South African activists came at a time when the new state had close relationships with a number of newly decolonized African states. Israel gave aid and military assistance to many African countries.  But post-1967, African states began to view Israel as a colonial power, and it didn’t help that Israel began to provide close assistance to South Africa’s apartheid government beginning in 1973.

    Leave a Reply