In Pushback Against South African Anti-Zionists, Local Israel Advocates Launch Billboard Campaign Citing Nelson Mandela
by Ben Cohen
Pro-Israel advocates in South Africa this week launched a billboard campaign highlighting the fulsome support of the country’s late President, Nelson Mandela, for Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign, independent state.
The billboard poster was unveiled on Monday on the M1 North highway in the Sandton district of Johannesburg. Two other billboards showcasing the benefits to South Africans of Israeli innovations in water technology were placed in the same district by the group, South African Friends of Israel (SAFI).
“Nelson Mandela was a true South African friend of Israel, a man who stood with the Jewish community and insisted on the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish homeland within secure borders,” Bafana Modise, spokesperson for SAFI, told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.
The billboard poster displays a photograph of Mandela alongside a quote taken from a speech he delivered to the South African Jewish community in August 1993 that stated: “We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist.”
Lionized in South Africa and revered around the world for his leadership of the struggle against the former apartheid regime, Mandela spent 27 years incarcerated in three of its prisons before his release in 1990 inaugurated the country’s transition to a multiracial democracy. Elected as South Africa’s president in 1994, he served five years in office. He died in 2013.
Mandela’s historic comments on Israel have gained added significance given the current hostility of the African National Congress (ANC), the party he led, toward the Jewish state, which is contemptuously regarded in ANC circles for supposedly imposing an apartheid system on the Palestinians. In recent years, ANC leaders have warmly embraced the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, downgraded the status of South Africa’s embassy in Tel Aviv, and promoted both the boycott campaign targeting Israel and its associated antisemitic conspiracy theories.
Mandela’s 47-year-old grandson, Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, has been particularly outspoken in condemning Israel. The younger Mandela, who converted to Islam in 2016, has described Israel as “the worst apartheid regime.” Last week, he led calls for a boycott of the Miss Universe 2021 contest being held in Israel in December.
A website launched by SAFI as a companion to the billboard campaign gathers speeches and statements made by Nelson Mandela about Israel which confirm that his views on Zionism, Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians were very different from those expressed by his grandson.
In the speech quoted on the billboard, delivered to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies on Aug. 21, 1993, Mandela expressed his deep sympathies with both Jewish and Palestinian national aspirations.
“As a movement we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize 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 vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination,” Mandela said at the time.
On a visit to Israel in Oct. 1999, Mandela reaffirmed his position at a joint press conference with then Israeli foreign minister David Levy. Lauding Israel as an “economic powerhouse” long before the country acquired its “start-up nation” reputation, Mandela opined, “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders.”