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Listen to Mandela

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Nelson Mandela, jokes with his grandson Zwelivelile Mandela during an election rally in Johannesburg, April 19, 2009.
Nelson Mandela, jokes with his grandson Zwelivelile Mandela during an election rally in Johannesburg, April 19, 2009. Credit: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Let’s assume that indeed all critics of the occupation are anti-Semites, as Israel’s efficient propaganda machine claims; and that all BDS supporters seek Israel’s destruction; and that Israel isn’t an apartheid state, and that even its brutal occupation in the territories is no such thing.

What will the Zionist propagandists say in response to the remarks of Chief Zwelivelile Mandela, the grandson of Nelson Mandela and perpetuator of his legacy? Will they accuse him of anti-Semitism and claim he is motivated by malevolent interests? That perhaps he’s getting money from ISIS? That he’s serving Qatar? That he’s a neo-Nazi like Jeremy Corbyn?

One can say anything. One can also continue to bask in Donald Trump’s moral doctrine, embrace the president of the Philippines, view the Hungarian president as a true friend and consider the Brazilian president a beacon of justice. You can pass a law requiring every municipality to follow the enlightened lead of Petah Tivka and name a square after Trump. But it would be far more worthwhile to listen to Chief Mandela. Any decent Israeli cannot remain indifferent to his words. It’s hard to lay on him those accusations that Israel directs at all people of conscience who dare to criticize it.

Mandela, a large and impressive man, was born in 1974 and he has a baby face that is very much reminiscent of his grandfather. He is a member of the South African Parliament, chief of the Thembu tribe and head of the Mvezo Village Council. He lives in the village of Qunu, where his grandfather was buried, and last week he attended the large pro-Palestinian conference, the Palestine Expo, in London.

Mandela is a great storyteller who can keep audiences mesmerized for hours with stories about his grandfather, whom he visited in prison as a boy and later accompanied on his trips around the world. His father died of AIDS when he was young, and his grandfather drew him close as his oldest grandson. With a keffiyeh on his neck and a Palestine bracelet on his arm, he is carrying on Mandela’s legacy. Whoever accuses him of anti-Semitism would have to similarly blame the greatest statesman of conscience in the 20th century, his admired grandfather, whom many brave South African Jews joined in the struggle, and were wounded, exiled and jailed with him.

Mandela speaks decisively when he says that the Bantustan enclaves didn’t work in South Africa and will never work in apartheid Israel. Not only is he convinced that Israel is an apartheid state, he sees it as the worst form of apartheid he has ever witnessed. Yes, worse than South Africa. He lists the components of apartheid formerly in his country – statutory discrimination, movement restrictions, land expropriation, group areas, military rule, roadblocks, humiliations and home searches. All of these happen in Israel.

He said the nation-state law passed last year gave constitutional status to an apartheid reality that has been present since Israel’s inception. Mandela quoted his grandfather, who saw the Palestinian struggle as the most moral issue of modern times. In 1995, Nelson Mandela said, as president, “that our struggle is yet incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinian people.”

His grandson said that leaders of the black struggle who were being jailed and exiled saw the Palestinian struggle as an inspiration for their own. When Mandela visited the United States and President Bill Clinton tried to get him to cool his relationships with Yasser Arafat and Muammar Ghadafi, Mandela’s response was unequivocal: He would never abandon those who had stood by him and his people during the hard times.

It’s hard to say that Israel stood by him, and that’s an understatement. Why did he visit Israel anyway? Because Arafat asked him to. Arafat believed that the man who was able to persuade the heads of the white regime in South Africa so successfully would be able to persuade the leaders of a similar regime in Israel. He was to be disappointed.

The younger Mandela sees support for BDS as a moral obligation, as the boycott of his own country was. He is cheerful and optimistic, like his grandfather. “In the end justice will prevail,” he said. “Today South Africa, tomorrow Palestine. This gathering right here reminds us of our date with history.”



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