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In ’90, the Jewish establishment refused to embrace Mandela– and failed to represent the community


This post was published yesterday on Muzzlewatch, a project of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

JVP joins with people and communities across the globe in expressing our admiration, love, and gratitude for Nelson Mandela, a giant in the struggle for justice and an inspiration to us all.

Had Muzzlewatch existed 23 years ago when Mandela, newly released from prison, made a thrilling visit to New York, the shameful response of the “official” Jewish community would have been the lead story here for days. While 750,000 New Yorkers of all sorts poured into the streets to cheer this courageous hero, the Jewish establishment sat out the festivities. Why? Muzzlewatch readers need no hints: This world leader who sat in jail for 27 years for fighting apartheid was not an acceptable Zionist.

His visit coincided with the moment we were co-founding the NY-based organization, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), and we were disgusted that the Jewish establishment announced that they were withholding their welcome of him to our city unless he satisfied them on his support for Israel. It was a stark demonstration of the way rightleaning Israel politics were skewing Jewish participation in progressive causes here — which is part of why we formed JFREJ. We decided that our inaugural event should be a symbolic welcome of Mandela from the substantial wing of the Jewish community that was happy and grateful to embrace him.

More than 1,000 people from across the city attended the Shabbat service and celebration of his achievement. Among the speakers: Harry Belafonte, Henry Schwarzschild, Grace Paley, and the ANC representative, Susan Mnumzama, with a closing song by Bernice Johnson Reagon. The service was led by Rabbis Marshall Meyer, Rolando Matalon, and Balfour Brickner.

We raised $30,000 to present to the ANC that evening, along with a statement applauding Mandela “as a moral voice for peace, justice, and self-determination for all peoples.”

We managed to get word out in other ways, too. JFREJ founding board member Alisa Solomon landed an op-ed in the New York Times (despite the NYT editors’ cautious hands, what was a radical critique in the mainstream media at the time could today have been penned by J Street).

We share her text and the rousing remarks of Harry Belafonte below.


Belafonte’s Remarks on Mandela

This post first appeared on Muzzlewatch earlier today.

Donna Nevel
About Donna Nevel

Donna Nevel, a community psychologist and educator, is co-director of PARCEO. She's a founding member of Jews Say No!, Facing the Nakba, and Jews Against Anti-Muslim Racism (JAAMR) and was a co-founder of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

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7 Responses

  1. irmep
    irmep on June 28, 2013, 10:14 am

    It was quite a bit more than “refusing to embrace.” The ADL was infiltrating and illegally collecting non-public info on Apartheid opponents.

    Other orgs were promoting Israel (with its FTA) as a “gateway” for trading South African goods.

    • yourstruly
      yourstruly on June 28, 2013, 9:10 pm

      hmm, so 60 years after their Transfer agreement with Nazi Germany, Zionist organizations were involved in a similar agreement with apartheid South Africa. A specific pattern’s emerging here; namely, Zionism organizations tend to be on the side of the colonial regime. Birds of a feather……..

  2. Hostage
    Hostage on June 28, 2013, 10:59 am

    The article fails to point out that Mandela criticized Israel in televised interviews during his visit. Those remarks have subsequently been downplayed and expunged by the mainstream media.

    In Joshua Muravchik, “Mandela in America”, Commentary Magazine, October 1990 the author and various American Jewish leaders, including Abe Foxman and Henry Siegman complained about the comments Mandela had made in the past and in those televised interviews during his visit to New York.

    That included the fact that Mandela was unapologetic about his past and present support for the PLO and his condemnation of the government of Israel as an apartheid regime:

    Mandela, by contrast, has not merely accepted help from tyrants, he has praised, endorsed, and flattered them. . . . Of Arafat he says: “We are in the same trench struggling against the same enemy: the twin Tel Aviv and Pretoria regimes, apartheid, racism, colonialism, and neocolonialism. . . . Mandela had only expressed “regret” for the distress his earlier comments might have caused. (Those comments included his remark that “there are many similarities between our struggle and that of the PLO,” and that “if the truth alienates the powerful Jewish community in South Africa, that’s too bad.”)

    link to

    • Ecru
      Ecru on June 28, 2013, 11:23 am

      Mandela……has not merely accepted help from tyrants, he has praised, endorsed, and flattered them

      Hmm. Why does this remind me of Jabotinsky and Ahimeir and their admiration of Mussolini (and Fascism in general) and the Stern Gang and their approach to the Nazis. There really is no end to examples of that core Zionist belief, “one rule for Jews another for everyone else.”

    • a blah chick
      a blah chick on June 28, 2013, 7:30 pm

      I seem to recall that when someone asked the ANC people why they were allowing that ne’er do well Arafat to participate in some of their functions after the end of apartheid they got the reply that the ANC would not disavow those who stood by them in the darkest days.

      By the by has anyone mentioned Israel and their relationship with Mobutu? Don’t recall anyone in the Jewish leadership criticizing that.

  3. seafoid
    seafoid on June 28, 2013, 3:37 pm

    I am not surprised the upper echelon of the Jewish community weren’t interested in Mandela. Israel made a lot of money selling arms to apartheid SA. Peres did a lot of brokerage.

    Jewish values are just crap for the middle and lower classes. Higher up it’s all about business.

  4. yourstruly
    yourstruly on June 28, 2013, 10:31 pm

    for a long time now the jewish establishment hasn’t represented the interests of the community, only the interests of themselves and their zionist project.

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