South Africa's ANC Lurches Into Anti-Semitism

Ruling Party Tarnishes Nelson Mandela's Legacy of Tolerance

Man of Peace: Nelson Mandela became one of the world’s most admired people by espousing a message of tolerance. His legacy is being tarnished as his African National Congress party lurches toward anti-Semitism.
getty images
Man of Peace: Nelson Mandela became one of the world’s most admired people by espousing a message of tolerance. His legacy is being tarnished as his African National Congress party lurches toward anti-Semitism.

By James Kirchick

Published December 12, 2012, issue of December 14, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In October, the African National Congress dropped all pretense and announced its support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. The declaration came at the third International Solidarity Conference, a conclave of left-wing groups that was hosted by the ANC in Pretoria and overwhelmingly endorsed the call. Baleka Mbete, ANC chairperson and former deputy president, stated that Israel is “far worse than apartheid South Africa.” The move comes shortly after the South African government promulgated a policy mandating that goods originating from Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem be labeled as having been produced in “Israeli Occupied Territories.”

South Africa’s ruling party has always been predisposed to the Arab side of the Middle Eastern conflict, seeing the Palestinian cause as identical to its own erstwhile struggle against white minority rule. But, at least while under the tutelage of former president Nelson Mandela, the ANC had attempted to adopt a neutral face, supporting the international consensus of a two-state solution based on the proposition of “land for peace.” Such gestures of impartiality are now moot.

The official shift comes after the culmination of years’ worth of anti-Israel agitation by ANC and other former anti-apartheid figures. In August, South African Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim called upon South African citizens to refrain from visiting Israel. In May, Archbishop Desmond Tutu penned an open letter to the United Methodist Church urging it to boycott Israel, alleging that the Palestinians “are being oppressed more than the apartheid ideologues could ever dream about in South Africa.” (Tutu also suggested that the extermination of European Jewry was actually to Jews’ benefit, writing that “the Jewish Holocaust, engineered and implemented primarily by Europeans, gave some ideologues within the Jewish and Christian community an excuse to implement plans that were in the making for at least 50 years, under the rubric of exceptional Jewish security.”) In 2009, the ANC’s deputy foreign minister alleged, “The control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money.”

Absent from this debate has been any consideration of the ideas or temperament of the greatest figure to grace not just the ANC, but also South Africa: Mandela. The former president, who is 94 years old, rarely makes public appearances or comments on important matters. But it is not merely Mandela’s voice that is sorely missing from the country’s arguments over the Middle East — it’s his legacy.

To be sure, Mandela was critical of Israel throughout his political career, and he defended fellow Third World liberation leaders like the late Moammar Qaddafi and Yasser Arafat. Yet Mandela also had a deep appreciation for Judaism, his feelings influenced by the countless South African Jews who supported him in his resistance to apartheid and then during his term as the country’s first democratically elected president. With their virulent attacks on Israel and aspersions cast on their Jewish countrymen as disloyal, Mandela’s political heirs are tarnishing the values of reconciliation and democracy for which their hero stood. And with Mandela in his twilight, the situation will only get worse.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.