With the news of the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela, world leaders have converged in South Africa for his memorial service. Internationally he is being heralded as a great hero and liberator with accolades pouring in.
Some Jewish leaders are even comparing Mr. Mandela to Jacob’s son Joseph. For example, South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein recognizes this in the following prayer:
“So too, Oh L-rd, your servant Nelson Mandela, like the biblical Joseph, rose up from jail to become President of a mighty nation; he too transcended his personal pain and years of suffering to forgive and to embrace his brothers and sisters who had inflicted so much pain on him.”
But is he like Joseph? Like Joseph, Nelson Mandela rose from prison to President. His heroic efforts championed the downfall of Apartheid; bringing freedom and equality to his beleaguered land. Furthermore, when in power he demonstrated a grace to extend forgiveness toward those who had harmed him. While there are similarities, believe me, he’s no Joseph; nor is he anywhere near the stature of Mahatma Gandhi or Rev. Martin Luther King.
When the news of Mandela’s death was announced and as the accolades continued pouring in, admittedly I had mixed emotions. Although there were definitive high points to his life, his great tenacity, courage and self sacrifice for the sake of an oppressed people; there is this other side of Nelson Mandela that I cannot forget. How can I forget his embracing of terror leader Yasser Arafat and his push to return Israel to her pre-67 borders? How can I forget his campaigns of unceasing comparisons equating Israel to apartheid? How can I overlook his gravitation towards
supporting oppressive dictators like Moammar Khadafy and Fidel Castro? How can I overlook his embrace of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan?
Some of Mr. Mandela’s infamous quotes include the following: With reference to Israel and apartheid: If the truth alienates the powerful Jewish community in South Africa, that’s too bad.” (2/27/1990, JTA)
Speaking at a Reform synagogue in Johannesburg, he exemplified “chutzpah” by telling those gathered: If Zionism means the right of the Jewish people to seize territory and deny the Palestinian people the right to self-determination, we condemn it.” (9/24/1990, JTA)
As President, Mr. Mandela approved a $650 million sale in tank-firing systems to Syria and consistently backed regimes overtly hostile to Israel.
CNN’s Hitendra Wadhwa notes the following: “In 1962, he embraced violence; founding Umkhonto we Sizwe — Spear of the Nation — the ANC’s armed wing, which launched guerrilla attacks on the government, and journeyed to Ethiopia to learn how to use firearms. During South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, he actively canvassed for lowering the voting age from 18 to 14 years to ensure a strong win for the ANC, citing as precedents a questionable list of five countries that included North Korea, Iran, and Cuba — a move that was widely criticized.”
All through his life, Nelson Mandela was aided and encouraged by Jewish people. From his first job to the legal team that defended him and fought for his release from prison, the Jewish people had long beenhis friends. If this is how he treats his friends, please cease with the comparisons to Joseph. Of Joseph, the Torah tells us “And the L-RD was with Joseph…..and whatever he did, the L-RD made to prosper.”