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!
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • 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.