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The Jewish Report Editorial

Would Rabin & Mandela agree

  • GeoffEditorial
In South Africa, the cynical placing of pigs’ heads in kosher shelves in Woolworths by anti-Israel groups makes us wonder what visionary reconciler Nelson Mandela would have said. Turning to Israel, the despair of Jews and Palestinians about ever reaching peace makes one think of Yitzhak Rabin, who believed the two peoples could find a way to live peacefully as neighbours and who was assassinated 19 years ago. People with diverse political agendas claim both as their inspiration.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Nov 05, 2014

Some of the ugly things happening in South Africa today - such as the pigs’ heads placed by Cosas in Woolworths branches, cries of “Shoot the Jew” at an Israeli performer’s concert at Wits University last year and others, provoke people to refer back to our great visionary, Nelson Mandela, pronouncing on what attitude he would have taken. Now that he is gone, it is easy for people to claim him for a variety of agendas.

“He would never have tolerated such a thing as the pigs’ heads and would have denounced Cosas and BDS!” say some. Others say: “Although Mandela visited Israel and was friendly towards the SA Jewish community, Israel’s behaviour in the last few years - the recent Gaza bombing in response to Hamas’ rocket attacks, etc - would have led him to denounce it and recall the South African ambassador!”

And others might say: “Mandela would have supported Palestinian leader (Mahmoud) Abbas at the United Nations in demanding it recognise a Palestinian state!”

While Mandela died a peaceful death surrounded by adulating masses and lovingly cared for by his family and closest friends, others elsewhere who stood for great visions and made great leaps of faith, died violently, but are also claimed for diverse agendas.

In Israel, 19 years ago, on November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish Israeli who believed that his intention of withdrawing Israel from the West Bank was treasonous - a view shared by other rightwing Israelis who demonstrated against him and created an atmosphere close to civil war.

Over the years, people on all sides of the political divide have tried to exploit Rabin’s legacy for their own political objectives. Some on the left claim to be his authentic torch-bearers, maintaining that broad political concessions should be made in his name and that this way, peace can be attained.

Others claim that the Israeli far left is today so out of touch with reality in their illusionary belief of reconciliation with the Palestinians, that even Rabin would not have identified with them.

Other state leaders who have changed the course of history and have been assassinated, are: John F Kennedy in the United States in 1963; Anwar Sadat of Egypt, assassinated in 1981 after concluding a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 which has lasted three and a half decades - even if it is a rather cold peace; and in our own country, architect of apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd, stabbed to death in Parliament in 1966 by parliamentary messenger Dimitri Tsafendas.

Rabin’s co-operation with Yasser Arafat - who can forget the famous photograph of them shaking hands with US President Bill Clinton standing in the background with a beaming smile on his face? - was the ultimate pragmatic posture which held that over time, the Zionist vision of a democratic and Jewish homeland did not stand a chance of succeeding while Israel continued to control the lives of several million Palestinians.

Sadly, 19 years since Rabin’s assassination, we are no closer, perhaps even further away, from the reconciliation he and Arafat’s co-operation and handshake had pointed to.

The mistrust and hatred between the two peoples and their leaderships is so obvious that one wonders how it will ever be cured. Palestinians still don’t recognise the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish homeland. And Israel’s leadership is still not united on acceptance of a Palestinian state.

It is impossible to know what Mandela would have said about the anti-Israel atmosphere in South Africa today and its dangerous slide into actual anti-Semitism. It is equally impossible to know whether today, Rabin would still believe that reconciliation was possible between Israelis and Palestinians.

Rabin was not the “Mandela” of the Middle East. He failed to carry all Israelis with him in his political vision, as Mandela did with virtually all South Africans.

But he did believe that there could be peace between Israelis and Palestinians – an attitude which is, tragically, in short supply today in the Middle East.

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