Israel news: the last word on Nelson Mandela—hypocrisy?

Tuvia Brodie,

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Tuvia Brodie
Tuvia Brodie has a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh under the name Philip Brodie. He has worked for the University of Pittsburgh, Chatham College and American Express. He and his wife made aliyah in 2010. All of his children have followed. He believes in Israel's right to exist. He believes that the words of Tanach (the Jewish Bible) are meant for us. His blog address is He usually publishes 3-4 times a week on his blog and 1-3 times at Arutz Sheva. Please check the blog regularly for new posts.

Here’s a fresh look at Israel’s news—and some headlines you might have overlooked as last week ended.  

Today, we look at—and comment on—just a few headlines from December 10-12, 2013.

Nelson Mandela

-Masses gather in Johannesburg for Mandela memorial (12/10/13, Jerusalem Post)

-World leaders pay tribute to Mandela  (12/10/13, Ynet)

-Obama in South Africa: Mandela is 'the last great liberator of the 20th century' (12/10/13, Haaretz)

- Obama hails Mandela, chides other leaders who stifle dissent (12/10/13 Ynet)

-Labor Chief Slams PM over Mandela Memorial Absence (12/10/13, Arutz Sheva)

- Mandela vs. the Iron Lady (12/10/13, The Times of Israel)

-By avoiding Mandela’s memorial, Netanyahu digs Israel’s PR grave (12/10.13, blogger essay The Times of Israel)

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu harvested more bitterness from last week’s news cycle, this time over the funeral of Nelson Mandela. The bitterness he collected didn’t come from foreigners. It came from Israelis who, apparently, are more smart than wise.   

The problem was, Mr Netanyahu begged off going to the funeral due, his office said, to cost constraints. Israel President Peres—who at first announced he would go--also begged off due, his own office said, to a case of the flu.

As one writer put it, Peres got a ‘doctor’s note’ to stay in Israel. He got an excused absence.  

But Netanyahu got hammered. With his ‘I can’t go’ announcement, he seemed to have committed several unforgiveable political sins. As Leftist Labor leader Yitzchak Herzog said, Netanyahu was guilty of "insensitivity or plain stupidity" over his decision not to attend Nelson Mandela's funeral (“Labor Chief Slams PM over Mandela Memorial Absence”).

According to the accusations, Netanyahu’s first sin was that he gave Israel a black eye (“By avoiding Mandela’s memorial, Netanyahu digs Israel’s PR grave”). Netanyahu’s refusal to honour the world’s greatest moral leader would serve only to provoke the world to continue to demonize Israel.

 Netanyahu’s second sin was that his failure to honour Mandela demonstrated a complete lack of appreciation for ethics and justice. As one commentator was quoted to say in “Mandela vs. the Iron Lady”, “Netanyahu’s decision to skip Madiba’s [Mandela’s] memorial draws jeers, especially in light of that fact that he attended Margaret Thatcher’s funeral…   ‘What values, as a country, do we place higher, values of justice and ethics, or the economic values of Margaret Thatcher, who after her death Brits went out drinking [sic] and waved signs condemning her?’

His third sin was the lameness of his excuse—the cost of travel. It seemed a transparently disingenuous excuse. How could he lie so stupidly?

Altogether, these accusations appeared to combine into a powerful slap in the face. Netanyahu looked vile.  But the accusations were misplaced.

Netanyahu was correct not to go to Mandela’s funeral. He might even have been correct to use so lame an excuse.

Israelis who raked Netanyahu over the coals apparently believe that Nelson Mandela remains a moral giant.  But that may not be entirely true.

It’s certainly not true for Jews.

Nelson Mandela had once been noble. During his life, he became a moral icon. He contributed to (led?) the defeat of the evil South African apartheid—and became his country’s President. Therefore, these writers proclaim, he is to be honoured for being the great moral leader of our time.  Anyone who refused to attend a ceremony to honour the passing of such a giant only soiled his own reputation.

Take that, you swine Netanyahu.

But while Nelson Mandela had no doubt been a moral giant, he did not remain a moral giant. When it came to the Jews, he put his morality—and his nobility—aside.

Look at what he did. He kissed Yasser Arafat. He called Arafat one of our generation’s giants (or something like that). He praised Arafat. He sat with Arafat. He visited Arafat.

He lent to Arafat his moral reputation. He allowed a killer and an advocate of ethnic cleansing to gain strength, fame and power from the afterglow of association and photo-ops.  

With every kiss, Mandela’s moral stature shrank. Arafat was a tyrant. Mandela kissed him. Arafat used apartheid rules to control his own people. Mandela kissed him. Arafat spoke of wiping Israel off the world map. Mandela kissed him.

But instead of kissing, Mandela should have used his moral stature to pressure Arafat. He should have told Arafat, in public, ‘My friend, if you wish to proclaim solidarity with me, then you cannot be intolerant to your own people; and you cannot hate those who are different from you’.

Mandela didn’t do that—and if apologists say he did, then he didn’t do it enough. At the very least, he should have spoken these words with every kiss. He didn’t do that, either.

He had his chance to speak. He remained silence. That silence ennobled a killer.

He shared his mantle of moral leadership with an immoral dissembler. His behaviour was moral hypocrisy.

He soiled his nobility. He propped up Jew-hate. In Western history, there is probably no greater a moral stain than that.

When he shared the spotlight with Arafat, all we heard were the kisses. All we saw was the love; and today, that love continues: the country that Mandela led and influenced now says that the “arrangement there in Palestine [sic] keeps us awake ... the last time I [South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane] looked at the map of Palestine, I could not go to sleep. The struggle of the people of Palestine is our struggle…”.

The truth about Netanyahu’s decision is this: the Prime Minister of Israel should not honour one who kisses unrepentant Jew-killers. The Prime Minister of Israel should not honour someone who strengthens those who demonizes the Jewish state. Our Prime Minister does not—and should not-- honour a man whose own country appears to support without reservation the Arab war against Israel. Perhaps the virtue our Prime Minister prefers to uphold is the virtue truth, not hypocrisy.

Perhaps this is why the Jewish people are to be called, a Light unto the nations—because Jews understand better than most where supporting moral double-standards can lead.

Too many Israelis prefer the moral duplicity of the West to truth. Perhaps Netanyahu was right not to go to Mandela’s funeral—it might have been immoral to do so; and so far as that lame excuse goes—the cost of the trip—perhaps the excuse should be lame, so that others can see that Netanyahu knows how to remain polite and courteous even to one who has betrayed his own nobility.

What do you think?