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In 1990 ‘Nightline’ town hall, Jewish leaders call Mandela ‘hypocritical’ and ‘amoral’ over support for PLO, Koppel warns it isn’t politically wise to upset lobby

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(Image: IMEU)

(Image: IMEU)

Watch this fascinating Ted Koppel interview with Nelson Mandela from 1990. The video is part of a New York City town hall meeting broadcast on ABC’s Nightline during Mandela’s first trip to the United States after being released from prison.

In it Koppel presses Mandela on his support for the Palestinians and the political fallout this may cause in the U.S. This was certainly in response to the fact that the American Jewish establishment at the time rejected Mandela over his support for the PLO. At 5:35 in the video Mandela gets a question from audience member Ken Adelman, a noted neocon who would go on to be a leading proponent for the second Iraq War. Adelman calls Mandela a hypocrite for saying he believes in human rights while supporting Yasser Arafat. Mandela says he supports the Palestinians because they have been steadfast allies against apartheid in South Africa. Adelman is followed by Henry Siegman, then the Executive Director of the American Jewish Congress now a vocal critic of Israel, who says Mandela’s answer “suggests a certain degree of amorality.”

Later, Koppel makes an oblique reference to the Israel lobby and tells Mandela his comments on Palestinians were not politically expedient:

“If you were more political you might have been more concerned about alienating some people in this country who have it within their hands, within their power, either to continue sanctions against South Africa or to raise those sanctions”

Mandela doesn’t get the question. Koppel restates his question more clearly focusing on the relationship between the Black and Jewish communities in the United States (and hedges a bit warning that Mandela is offending Cubans as well). Mandela takes him on, calls Arafat a “comrade in arms,” and talks about the role of Jews in fighting apartheid. Suffice to say, the crowd is with Mandela. Watch here:

Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Executive Editor of

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20 Responses

  1. Justpassingby on December 6, 2013, 12:26 pm

    What a courage Mandela had!
    Stupid israel-firsters didnt know that Mandela didnt give a f about their pressure.

    • on December 6, 2013, 4:13 pm

      i got very irked at the jewish koppel 4 different times sneakily intimating that mandelas words were gonna be troublesome to certain members of the american community , when he should’ve come out and said the jewish community.
      i wish mandela, instead of just saying arafat is my comrade, was much more forceful and to the point by specifyinh how similar his struggle was to arafats, it would’ve been more hard-hitting.
      imagine boren saying after all his gratuitous compliments about the whole s african situation,”but here in america we can’t support the palestinans even though they share similar problems of oppression because the israeli-loving jews have bought up all us politicians like street corner prostitutes in exchange for votes for israel and we love all their money, a a a i mean campaign contributions”.

      • Citizen on December 6, 2013, 7:50 pm

        @ thetruthhurts

        Bingo! Mandela could have said to Boren, “You’ve described the situation for my people very well. I support my comrade in arms Arafat because the situation for his people is quite similar. Mister Koppel implies people here who have the power to drop or employ sanctions on the South African government will drop them if I am not political enough to drop my support of Palestinian freedom. But a real leader must have integrity.”

  2. Krauss on December 6, 2013, 1:29 pm

    11.30 to 12.30.

    Pure genius.

    • seafoid on December 6, 2013, 5:52 pm

      They have held the line for another 20 years but for how much longer ?

  3. eGuard on December 6, 2013, 1:52 pm

    Koppel clearly raised his chair to tower. Didn’t work.

  4. Sycamores on December 6, 2013, 1:57 pm

    Senator David Boren

    “i think the American people understand what is going on in South Africa. we have seen families divided because they been classified according to race. we know people been deny the right to vote because of race. we know that people are detain and not even given a trial because of race and the American people regardless of party or position on other issues or not about to relieve the pressure until that system is change.”

    one day a US senator will say the same about israel.

    yes i know israeli Palestinians have the vote but it has become mere tokenism as most israeli Palestinians [see no difference between the parties, whether it is the liberal Left or the hawkish Right. Neither side has accepted the Arab minority as a legitimate member with aspirations in a democratic and multi-cultural Israeli society.]

    israeli Palestinians vote has been steadily declining over the last decade from 75% in the 1999 election to 50% in the last election.

  5. LanceThruster on December 6, 2013, 2:15 pm

    Thank you so much for flagging that (like Cliff notes that compel me to dig deeper when I’m able).

    Much appreciated.

  6. Pamela Olson on December 6, 2013, 2:32 pm

    I don’t think someone of Mandela’s courage or principle would be allowed on Primetime American TV these days. No pundit would allow himself to be (gently) schooled and humiliated the way Koppel is in this interview.

    • seafoid on December 6, 2013, 5:48 pm

      “No pundit would allow himself to be (gently) schooled and humiliated the way Koppel is in this interview”


      • Citizen on December 6, 2013, 8:04 pm

        Thanks, seafood. Perfect expose of our banal TV news anchors. Of course if, e.g., they started relentlessly pressing guests on whether Snowden or Manning are heroes or traitors, and just precisely why, they’d be out of their corporate jobs in no time.

      • Bumblebye on December 6, 2013, 10:26 pm

        And a whole bunch of others:

      • Ron Edwards on December 6, 2013, 10:59 pm

        Strangely, they seem terrified of him from the start, unable even to handle a standard interview format. Every time they try to control him by shutting him out, he calls them on it. I think they realize they’re off script almost immediately and then have no, literally no idea what to do. You can even see him say, “Screw this,” to himself at about 6:00 and launch into actually owning the entire event for the rest – somehow without insulting them directly but decisively demonstrating that these people are profoundly unsuited to their jobs. The news clips from the original Robocop film are no longer science fiction.

  7. Pamela Olson on December 6, 2013, 2:49 pm

    Senator Boren of Oklahoma:

    “I think the American people understand what has gone on in South Africa. We have seen families divided because they’ve been classified according to race. We know that people are denied the right to vote because of race. We know that people are detained and not even given a trial because of race. And the American people, regardless of party of position on other issues, are not about to relieve the pressure until that system has changed.”

    Hm… why does all this seem somehow familiar? And yet… totally unfamiliar at the same time…?

  8. PeaceThroughJustice on December 6, 2013, 3:08 pm

    Good work tracking this video down, Adam. There appears to be only one copy of it on all of YouTube, and only 5,000 people in the world have ever seen it. It will be interesting to see if any of the obituaries mention the Jewish community’s attack on Mandela.

    • Peter in SF on December 6, 2013, 6:59 pm

      Did you notice that when the audience cheers Mandela’s pro-Palestinian comments, we are NOT shown the reactions of Siegman and Cakewalk (Adelman)? This is irresponsible journalism, because Mandela is responding to questions asked by these two public figures, and the TV audience deserves to see how THEY feel about his response. Are they cheering along with everybody else we can see? Or sitting on their hands? The second is more likely, of course, but the program’s editors choose not to let us know either way.

  9. Citizen on December 6, 2013, 8:24 pm

    Koppel tells Mandela the Jewish Establishment in America “has the power in their hands” to scuttle sanctions against apartheid S Africa, urging Mandela to become more “political” and drop Arafat’s cause. Mandela refuses. He says a leader who does not have integrity doesn’t deserve to be leader of any country. A statesman. Us Americans don’t need no statesmen. Petooey!

    • seafoid on December 7, 2013, 1:06 am

      The earlier history of Zionism is so interesting. Screaming blue murder at anyone who would even think of talking to the PLO. How did thinking diplomats see that when the civil rights movement was at its height in the 60s? Eventually they had to give up the nonsense for a more sophisticated wheeze but I bet they yearn for the ideological certainty of those days. They ran all the billions of iterations of YESHA in the meantime and the baby is now more or less fully grown but there’s no hasbara cover for it any more. They had to recognize the Palestinians even if it killed Israel. And it will.

  10. Philip Munger on December 6, 2013, 9:27 pm

    Wow! What a find. Reminds me of why I wanted to emigrate to Iceland back then.

  11. just on December 7, 2013, 12:34 pm

    Thanks so much for posting this article and interview.

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