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

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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.

Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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13 Responses

  1. Justpassingby on December 24, 2013, 10:12 am

    Why would Mossad do that? We know that the same group supported the apartheid regime though.

    • eGuard on December 26, 2013, 6:10 am

      They did not do that. They just invented the story afterwards. Didn’t even dare to “leak” it when Mandela was alive.

      • Woody Tanaka on December 26, 2013, 10:10 am

        That’s exactly right. The old fighter would have put the zionist Apartheiders in their place, no doubt. So like the cravens they are, they wait until he can’t defend himself from their lies.

  2. goldmarx on December 24, 2013, 10:17 am

    Thanks, Alex.

    I just love it when the Tanakas and the others are just too stunned for words, trying to squirm their way out of this jam, choking on the contradictions of their own narrative.

    Merry Christmas, indeed!!

    • OlegR on December 24, 2013, 11:29 am

      Nah they are so good at rationalisng anything they will get out of it in this case as well.
      Or simply ignore it.

    • Woody Tanaka on December 26, 2013, 8:35 am

      Oh, give it a rest, goldiemax. No one’s too stunned for words. I stopped posting for a while to protest the fact that one of your fellow Judeo-fascists was permitted to blame the holocaust on the Jews. But, since your slander, I have reconsidered.

      As for this story: It takes a real sleaze to lie about someone after they are dead and can’t defend themselves, so it’s no surprise that the israeli government will lie about the great man, Mandela, who opposed israel and the kind of evil, racist government which you israelis have.

  3. OlegR on December 24, 2013, 10:53 am

    Conclusion, Israel had a long and convulted relationship with various African countries at various stages of their and it’s history in pursuit of it’s own political
    interests. Was it always moral in it’s action, hell no , but.
    trying to paint simplistic a one sided (Israel is evil that supported Apartheid) picture is ridiculous.

    • Justpassingby on December 24, 2013, 1:27 pm


      Your support for apartheid,then and now, is obvious for everyone here.

    • on December 24, 2013, 7:03 pm

      But Israel did support S African apartheid and does practice apartheid and these actions are evil. Simple and evil. I am not sure what OlegR’s objection to our noticing this and stating the truth is.

  4. yishai on December 24, 2013, 11:43 am

    @Oleg and @ goldmarx: Alex explains this fully in his short piece:
    Israel was admired in Africa as a fellow anti-colonial power, largely until 1967, after which almost all African nations broke ties due to its newly transparent (to them) colonial status. This fully explains this shift in their relations with African social movements, and toward a more state-centered approach afterwards, as their strength and power in the region grew.
    I think it is immeasurably significant that African nations realized the colonial nature of Israel some 40 or more years before the West, which is still to properly catch up…

    • OlegR on December 24, 2013, 11:48 am

      /.due to its newly transparent (to them) colonial status./
      Which obviously had nothing to with the cold war and Soviet influence among those African states.

  5. lysias on December 24, 2013, 4:03 pm

    If Israel trained Mandela under the mistaken belief that he was a Rhodesian revolutionary, how does that excuse Israel’s support of the apartheid regime in South Africa?

  6. Hostage on December 24, 2013, 6:26 pm

    If Israel trained Mandela under the mistaken belief that he was a Rhodesian revolutionary

    No they trained a guy named David Mobsari who came from Rhodesia and several months later, after Mandela’s arrest, arbitrarily decided that the two persons were one and same. All that really proves is that the two men may have looked alike.

    There is no evidence that this post-hoc intelligence analysis was anything more than conjecture, since it was not confirmed at the time.

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