By Alan JOHNSON, senior research fellow at BICOM and editor of Fathom.

alan johnson

Alan Johnson

That Nelson Mandela was not a fierce opponent of Zionism and Israel is remarkable.

It would have been convenient for him to be so. Firstly, the African National Congress during the Cold War was allied to the ‘anti-Zionist’ Soviet Union and Arab dictators, and received a lot of money from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Second, the ANC was supported by the South African Communist party, whose members, Jews included, took their line from Moscow. Third, as Israeli historian Shlomo Avineri has observed, there was Israel’s own troubling relationship to apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, not to mention the fact that, exceptions aside,”South Africa’s Jews on the whole did not oppose the apartheid regime.”

Despite all this, Mandela defended the Jewish state even as he opposed the occupation.

His memoirs tell how he learnt about guerrilla warfare from Arthur Goldreich, a South African Jew who learnt his trade in the Palmach in 1948, and recall how only El Al would fly his friend Walter Sisulu to Europe without a passport.

While some will try to claim Mandela as a supporter, the plain fact is he defended “two states for two peoples”.

We should remind ourselves of what Mandela said in 1993: “As a movement, we recognise the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognise the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism. We insist on the right of the state of Israel to exist within secure borders but with equal vigour support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.

“We are gratified to see that new possibilities of resolving the issue through negotiation have arisen since the election of a new government in Israel. We would wish to encourage that process, and, if we have the opportunity, to assist.”