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Mandla Mandela exposes his own antisemitism

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Antisemitism experts say it’s a sad day for South Africa after Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Nkosi Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, spouted anti-Jewish tropes that could have come from the pages of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

“Mandla Mandela’s rhetoric has crossed the thin line that separates anti-Zionism from classic antisemitism,” notes Milton Shain, antisemitism expert and emeritus professor of history at the University of Cape Town.

Mandela, a member of parliament, was speaking at a session of the Pan African Palestinian Solidarity Network on Saturday, 12 March 2022, in Dakar, Senegal. He blamed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on “Neo-Nazis in Ukraine, the apartheid Israel dogs of war, and those in NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] intent on advancing cold-war politics.”

He also said among other points, “We must advance our solidarity work by creating greater awareness of Israel’s evil actions, not only in Palestine, but in Africa and wherever it suits their pernicious agenda. It has mobilised formidable lobbies in the West and pursued a policy of cheque-book diplomacy in Africa. In the name of development and development assistance, it has spread its tentacles in our continent. Once a bastion of anti-colonial struggle, the lions of Africa have allowed the wool to be pulled over their eyes.

“We must reflect deeply on what has transpired on our continent and how the apartheid Israel regime and its Zionist lobbying machine has crept insipidly into the African psyche and wormed itself into our structures overtly and covertly,” said Mandela. “We must expose the Zionist agenda on the continent and strive to isolate apartheid Israel for the evil pariah state that it is.”

Shain says in Mandela’s speech, “well-worn antisemitic tropes are employed – tropes that can be found in Edouard Drumont’s La Libre Parole and Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Those who have studied Jew-hatred through the ages will recognise phrases like “spread their tentacles”, “cheque-book diplomacy”, and “wormed itself into our structures”.

“Such language is dangerous and unacceptable,” he says. “It ought to be condemned by all decent people. In 2009, South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister Fatima Hajaig had to apologise for the use of similar expressions. Mandla Mandela is welcome to his crude understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but his language betrays a deep-seated hatred of Jews. It certainly confirms the views of those who maintain that anti-Zionism is a fig leaf for old-style Judenhass. He’s a disgrace to the revered Mandela name.”

Renowned Holocaust scholar Professor Yehuda Bauer told the SA Jewish Report, “Obviously, this reeks of antisemitism.” One of Mandela’s points referred to the nearly seven and a half decades of the nakba [catastrophe] – [i.e. Israel’s entire existence] – and just last week, the South African Boycott Divestment Sanctions coalition called Israel’s existence “a crime against humanity”.

Yet Bauer emphasises, “The denial of the right of the Jewish people to political self-definition and self-rule is antisemitic. Zionism is a Jewish national movement that advocates Jewish independence and its free development. Mandela’s denial of Zionist legitimacy is in fact a denial of any Jewish national rights whatsoever. Everyone has such rights, according to Mandela, except the Jews. That’s antisemitic. The proper response, in my humble view, isn’t to defend, but to attack Mandela directly as a racist and nationalistic propagandist. When he implies that the Ukrainians are neo-Nazis, he justifies Russian imperialism, ridiculously, because the current Ukrainian leader is a Jew who was elected in free elections by more than 73% of Ukrainian citizens.”

Dr Günther Jikeli, the Erna B Rosenfeld associate professor at the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University, told the SA Jewish Report, “These statements by Mandla Mandela are deeply concerning and sad.

“They are concerning because they show strong indications of an irrational and antisemitic mindset that demonises Israel and accuses Israel and the ‘Zionist lobby’ – often a codeword for Jews – of conspiring against Africa, the African people, and the world,” he says.

“Mandela uses language, such as ‘dogs of war’ and ‘spreading tentacles’ that the Nazis used when they demonised Jews. They are also concerning because they show that a leading figure in South Africa has lost any touch with reality and sees the world as a conspiracy fantasy. And it’s sad that Mandla Mandela uses his prominent name to spread such antisemitic language.”

South African Jewish Board of Deputies Associate Director David Saks says, “Antisemitism is a continually-mutating virus. Initially, it was primarily motivated by religious hatred and then took on a pseudo-racial caste. Now, it mainly targets Jews as a political, collective entity through defaming and delegitimising the Jewish nation state.

“Mandla Mandela’s ludicrous rant typifies this kind of modern-day Jew-hatred,” he says. “It’s redolent with the worst kind of antisemitic stereotypes, particular in its portrayal of Israel – ‘the Jew’ among the nations – as a sinister, insidious, and corrupting element exercising a malignant, behind-the-scenes control over African affairs. It’s a rehashed Protocols of the Elders of Zion for the 21st century, only with ‘Israel’ in place of ‘Jews’.”

Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, says, “We’re appalled but not surprised by Mandla Mandela’s atrocious attempt to weaponise the Mandela name as a means to delegitimise the Jewish state, minimise the Holocaust, and exploit the Ukrainian conflict for his own agenda. This is a betrayal of Madiba’s legacy as a global statesman and peacemaker who publicly spoke about the legitimacy of Zionism and the right of Israel to have secure borders and live in peace.”

  • Mandla Mandela’s full speech was published on the AfroPalForum website.

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