Sunday, December 15, 2013

Israel and Nelson Mandela, 1962 -1965: A Call for Freedom
Following the passing of Nelson Mandela, the Israel State Archives posted a publication documenting the effort Israel made to prevent the execution of Nelson Mandela and his comrades in 1964. These individuals were tried for different charges, including forming a terrorist organization and training for terrorist acts. The Israeli Foreign Ministry, led by Golda Meir, initiated a joint manifesto by philosopher Martin Buber and writer Chaim Hazaz, calling for the release of the defendants and ending apartheid in South Africa.

This publication is the forerunner of a wider publication--part of a series on Israel's foreign relations--on Israel's relations with South Africa during the 1960s, which will be published on the archives' web site in the coming weeks.

The importance of the publication on Mandela (and the larger publications following it) is challenging the mistaken and often malicious claim that Israel supported South Africa's apartheid regime. Israel did not sympathize with apartheid and did not support it. Israel expressed its opposition to the racial discrimination in South Africa and voted against it in the UN. Israel had contacts with the African National Congress (ANC), and invited its exiled leader, Oliver Tambo, to visit Israel in 1964. Israel, as will be revealed in the documents soon to be published, recalled its Legate from South Africa (Israel didn't have an embassy in South Africa but held a legation) at the end of 1963, and replaced him with a Chargé d'Affaires until the 1970s. All this was done in accordance with UN Resolution 1761, which called all states in the UN to break off their relations with South Africa. Israel didn't completely end relations with South Africa out of consideration for the large and important Jewish community there.

The relations between Israel and South Africa began to warm after the Yom Kippur War. Other African states, in which Israel invested money, manpower and goodwill, broke off relations with Israel en masse during and after the war (several, especially Uganda, broke off relations already in 1972). In reaction, Israel improved its diplomatic, economic and even military relations with South Africa. Nevertheless, Israel continued opposing apartheid, but not as intensively as she did during the 60s. More on this to come.


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