The Canadian Zionist Counter-Attack – BDS Redux II

BDS II: The Zionist Counter-Attack


Howard Adelman

In yesterday’s blog, I referred to the disproportionately large numbers of emails that I received in the last week concerning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), my own past writing on BDS, the call by the Kadima MK, Dr. Nachman Shai, to fight BDS with an idea, and the usual defensive stance one usually reads in Jewish and public media sources. I could also have described many of the counter-positions taken against BDS as offensive in both senses of that word. For an offensive action or verbal response is one that is aggressive and combative, but may also be one that is repugnant, more upsetting than informative, insulting and derogatory more than enlightening, abusive rather than respectful of the truth.
One of my readers responded to yesterday’s blog as follows:

I read with interest your communications on BDS and IJV. It is refreshing to see someone write about this without spewing vitriol against those of us who are critical of Israel, but are anything but antisemitic.
There is one point that I think merits more discussion, and that is the contention that BDS (and IJVers) are out to destroy Israel as the home of the Jews, among other things, because when we denounce Israeli discrimination against Palestinians as being as bad as apartheid (I believe this is so in the Occupied territories), we are delegitimizing the state of Israel and thus paving the way for its end, and thus the end of a safe Jewish homeland.

This assumes that a democratic state, where Jews and Palestinians are equal, ergo not a Jewish state, cannot be a safe home for Jews. I don’t think that follows. I think that even if there were a Palestinian majority, Israel/Palestine could be (my italics) a safe home for both ethnicities; in fact, I think that is the only safe outcome for both Jews and Palestinians. I think that in order to arrive at this, Israel and the Occupied territories would probably go through a confederation before becoming a plurinational state. South Africa got rid of Apartheid and did not descend into chaos and the whites have not been kicked into the sea, despite the big problems of that nation.

The policies of the present Jabotinski Zionist government of Israel are in, my opinion, suicidal, because the Arab states that are inimical to Israel will eventually acquire the means to destroy Israel and be able to insist on an outcome that is not safe for Jews and this will be unsafe for Palestinians as well.

With best regards.

I think that the idea that, given the current Middle East, where Christian religious cleansing has been at full tilt for at least the last three decades, should be trusted to tolerate a Jewish minority, where Arab pogroms against Jews were not uncommon prior to the creation of Israel, where Arab countries aggressively attacked the nascent Jewish state when the United Nations endorsed the creation of three states in Mandatory Palestine – a Jewish state that became Israel, a Palestinian Arab state that was mostly annexed by Jordan, and Jerusalem as a city state under international auspices – is naïve in the extreme. But asking Jews to take that risk given that environment of extreme hostility is more than naïve. It is suicidal. Or, at the very least, there is a significant risk of suicide. And Jewish Israelis are neither suicidal nor willing to take that risk.

Further, since the United Nations in 1947 and 1948 decided that combining the two groups in one state was unworkable – and, as I documented, this included supporters of the Arabs in Palestine – why do not supporters of a one-state solution with a majority of Arabs accept that international determination? Why do they not embrace the two-state solution? Further, in advocating a majoritarian Palestinian solution, why do they not try to engage is a civil dialogue and instead expend much effort in branding Israel as an apartheid and racist state? Whatever its faults and whatever the criticisms of the right in Israel, Israel is not by any reasonable measure an apartheid or racist state as much as I personally am repelled by some policies. Further, my reader who sent this response I know is not anti-Semitic. But he is clearly an anti-Zionist. He clearly supports BDS, IJV and the dismantling of the Israeli state. He is at least honest about that.

Why can Norwegians, Scots and Quebeckers vote to have their own state but Jews cannot? Why can other Jews, who have now shrunken to a very small minority, accept the fact that the overwhelming proportion of Jews have become supporters of Jews having their own state, even if they themselves have not become Zionists? Why cannot Jews have a state that can defend itself, especially given past behaviour of their neighbours? It is not totally unsurprising and even understandable that in such a context such advocates are branded – quite aside from what they actually are – as not only anti-Zionists, but advocates who often try to disguise that anti-Zionism.

Further, the almost obsessive focus on Israel and almost total disregard of the much grosser abuse of rights by states that surround Israel, more specifically the abuse of rights by the Khomeini regime (how many Baha’is have been murdered by that regime?) can, again, understandably lead those who support Israel to regard the position of BDSers and IJVers as at least bordering on anti-Semitism, even if those advocates may not actually be guilty of such beliefs? If they deny Jews, and usually only Jews, the right to self-determination, is it not at least a possibility that this constitutes anti-Semitism even if they contend they are not motivated in the least by anti-Semitism?

History has spoken. Why do they not listen?

Except as revealed in the last sentence – the supporters of BDS and IJV want to reverse history, view that history as reversible and expect as well as support the destruction of Israel as a state for the Jewish people, a state in which non-Jews can live as citizens with equal rights.

But that criticism is not the object of this blog. Rather, I want to examine the attacks against BDS and the small segment of Jews represented by IJV that supports such policies.

Tyler Levitan, a vociferous supporter of both BDS and IJV, penned a piece called, “Israel Lobby’s War On Boycott Movement Distracts From Reality.” Setting aside for the moment whether this description is more applicable to the position of IJV, what is the contention? After all, the charge is made not only against Zionists and the Jewish establishment, but against Canada’s political establishment, including both Liberals and Conservatives and even New Democrats. It is why the BDS movement and its IJV supporters have targeted The Green Party given its weak defenses against such assaults from a determined minority and why they have linked their attack to environmentalism in trying to delegitimize the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

Levitan is correct in countering the charge that BDS is an “absolute” failure, if only because it has attracted great attention and the deployment of significant resources by the Jewish community. Further, BDS claims some concrete successes. After all, was not BDS cited (my italics) as a prime cause in a 50% drop in foreign direct investments in Israel in 2015? But citation is not proof either that BDS was a prime cause of this claimed drop or, more significantly, that, Israel suffered a decline in foreign investment at all. A simple survey of economic assessments in this respect, either by the IMF or internal Israeli bank information, suggests that Israel did not suffer a 50% drop but managed a significant gain (19%) over 2014, and only a modest 3% drop relative to the record gain in 2013. No self-respecting economist would suggest that these fluctuations had anything to do with BDS. BDSers are reliable at blowing their own horn, but not on the justifications for doing so. There were a record 90 private investment deals in Israel in 2015 totaling in value $3.4 billion. All this merely suggests that BDS is better at propaganda than at truth.

That, however, is an aside. For the main battleground, as both BDSers and IJVers acknowledge, is over control of the dominant narrative. And, whatever the serious weaknesses of this anti-Zionist lobby and their efforts to portray themselves as representatives of Canadian public opinion, they repeatedly try to characterize the issue of return of Palestinian refugees as a universal rights issue, but do not insist on such so-called “universal rights” for the myriad of other refugee groups, including the Jewish refugees forcefully displaced from the West Bank. Further, refugee return has not become a universal right, as much as many of us would choose to make it one. It unequivocally was not a universal right when the Palestinians fled and were forcefully displaced in 1948. Nor is UN Resolution 194 calling for a return or compensation based on such a presumption. (Again, I refer readers to Howard Adelman and Elazar Barkan (2011) No Return, No Refuge. New York: Columbia University Press.)

BDS claims that Israel was founded on racial ethnic cleansing, ignoring who attacked whom, other neighbours who have engaged in ethnic and religious cleansing and the fact that although the number of those forced out of their homes and villages was indeed large, a majority of those refugees simply fled war. More credibility might be given to the BDSers and IJVers if their approach was the least bit balanced and they were not driven by the goal of delegitimizing Israel and Zionism that led to Israel’s creation, if they advocated that all Jews who were or whose ancestors were driven out of Europe should retroactively be given European citizenship, if they insisted with equal strength that Bosniacs who fled predominantly Serbian areas in former Yugoslavia and Serbs forced to flee from Croatia should be given the right to return in security, then their position might be respected for its dispassion and impartiality rather than simply as a front for an anti-Zionist stance.

To say that, “Israel is already an Arab-majority state; 52% of Israelis are Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews, most coming from Arab states,” is disingenuous at the very least since those Israelis identify themselves as Jews from Arab lands not as Arabs. Further, I have also not read anywhere BDSers and IJVers taking up the issue of compensation for Jews from Arab lands. The majority of Jews in Israel are now sabras (72%) even if a majority of their ancestors are Mizrahi. As a population, they are the group most opposed to the possibility of living in a state where the Jews will not be a majority. Citing racist epithets of some Israelis – and there are too many of them – is not a reason to reject Zionism or the legitimacy of the Israeli state.

It is in that context that the attacks on BDS and on IJV must be understood, even if the efforts to blacken BDS and IJV by suggesting they are anti-Semitic and Holocaust deniers, may be counter-productive in the long run even if possibly yielding short term success. For then groups like B’nai Brith join BDS and IJV in a pattern of distortion and mudslinging. “Zionists are racists.” “BDS is an anti-Semitic movement.” “Zionists practice apartheid.” “BDS associates with Holocaust deniers.” Though there is a grain of truth in the epithets aimed at the “enemy,” the overall portrayal disfigures much more than it configures. In ignoring that it was the UN that recommended that a Jewish state be recognized in Palestine, BDS perpetuate a calumny against the state that does border on anti-Semitism, even if that is not the motive of those anti-Zionist advocates. If B’nai Brith accuses all supporters of the BDS position as supporting anti-Semitism and even Holocaust denial, one calumny may balance another, but at the expense of balance and truth.

Not all supporters of BDS or of IJV are anti-Zionists. They may only be critical of Israeli government policies in the West Bank. But the main thrust of BDS and IJV is anti-Zionist. Becoming a fellow traveler risks being drawn into the same maelstrom.

The focus of one of the recent stories I read was on the last of a three-part series by B’nai Brith (BB), which advertises itself as Canada’s League for Human Rights. The series set out to expose IJV as, at core, anti-Jewish, even though it is made up of so-called Jews. After all, if IJV aligns itself with the Khomeini regime of Iran, as Ken Stone, the founder of IJV did in expressing his appreciation of the legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini in 2016 at a celebration of the his 27th anniversary in Toronto. Even if many of Ken Stone’s relatives may have died in the Holocaust, a fact cited to prove that Stone is free of any association with Holocaust denial, and as much as he might insist that Khomeini wass not a Holocaust denier, the overwhelming evidence is that both he and many of his religious and political heirs were and are.

Though it is totally understandable why B’nai Brith might ask how any self-respecting Jew could support Khomeini, since Stone has explicitly praised him. Further, IJV had posted on its website (subsequently taken down) praise of Alan Hart, an author associated with Veterans Today, who was called by IJV a “widely-respected journalist and mid-East expert” when he was an explicit Holocaust denier. IJV subsequently disassociated itself from Veterans Day and dubbed its site as “extremely disreputable” engaging in “wild conspiracy theory.”

It is one thing for Iran to adopt such a horrific stance as Holocaust denial and adopt as a military objective eliminating the State of Israel. But for an ostensibly Jewish group to do so was particularly appalling. How could IJV identify with Khomeini, an explicit Holocaust denier, and then condemn another group for its Holocaust denial? Another IJV spokesman, Tyler Levitan, played a leading role in opposing the effort to make BDF illegal in Ontario in concert with successful attempts to do so in 21 of the states in the U.S. (California may be next.)

The campaign in Ontario, unlike many in the U.S., was a failure. One has a sense that Jewish organizations try to offset part of the failure by attacking the press for offering an inordinate proportion of space to an organization that represents very few Jews, that the Jews it represents are associated with nutty causes and associate with radical anti-Zionism and support for the elimination of Israel, and have even been linked to Holocaust denial defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) formed by 31 democracies, including Canada, as the negation of historical reality, denying its extent and relieving the Nazi responsibility by suggesting that Jews and/or Jewish organizations shared responsibility.

B’nai Brith did all of this and then went into overdrive, “calling upon Elizabeth May to once and for all, clarify if she is one of those members who wish to change the anti-BDS policy of the Green Party. If she does not support what BB labels as the anti-Semitic motions up for debate in its annual convention in August, she must immediately withdraw herself as co-sponsor and join her parliamentary colleagues in vociferously opposing BDF. In the BB statement, she must:
a) Immediately withdraw the antisemitic anti-Israel motions scheduled for discussion at the Green Party convention in August;
b) Issue a formal apology to all Canadians for her disingenuous email reply;
c) State, once and for all, her position on the antisemitic Boycott & Sanctions movement;
d) Disavow all Green Party affiliations to Independent Jewish Voices.

Elizabeth May lacks the power to do a) above. B’nai Brith is the party that is disingenuous in asking for a formal apology, for May’s letter, as weak and full of questions as it was, needs no apology from her. It may be unsound. It may be inadequately stated. It may be confused and run contrary to the usual clarity of her positions. But it is not something requiring an apology. Elizabeth May could state her personal policy on BDS and disavow IJV. I would not hold my breath.
So efforts are made to attack organizations that support BDS by linking them with Holocaust denial and with the goal of eliminating Israel. Efforts are made to bring a full body press against political parties that flirt with endorsing BDS. But positive efforts are also made. In celebrity politics, Helen Mirren, the Oscar Award-winning British actress, was the latest (others include Dionne Warwick, Alan Parsons and Kevin Costner) to be used to blast BDS. Further, Mirren went on to praise Israeli artists and even denounced artists (Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Lauren Hill) that shunned Israel.

One must distinguish between those who believe boycotts, divestment and sanctions to be legally and morally justified from those who oppose the BDS movement itself as an illegitimate and/or erroneously aimed use of this protest technique. Thus, in the U.S., 62% find boycotts, divestment and sanctions to be legitimate, but only half of those support BDS. In Britain, the support for BDS increases from one-third to 40%. Whether support is 33% or 40%, it is clear why this is a major policy concern for Israel and why the red flag is being raised. It is also why Israel uses not only celebrities to take opposite stands, but has enlisted a number of allies in the diaspora as research and attack dogs.

Dr. Nachman Shai argued that we need an idea to go against BDS, not throwing mud at everyone who stands near a supporter of BDS or of IJV. I, however, may be wrong. It is I who may be naïve. Perhaps the only approach to BDS and IJV is to use a sledgehammer rather than a sharp pen.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Mandela and Israel

Mandela, Netanyahu and Parashat Vayeshev


Howard Adelman

Rabbi Dow Marmur in his blog on Wednesday speculated on the reason Prime Minister Netanyahu cancelled his attendance at Mandela’s funeral. Yudi Edelstein, the Knesset Speaker and a former prisoner in the gulag, as well as several other Knesset members, did attend. There was, of course, the official reason, given the need for security, the huge costs – a sensitive subject in the light of the recent publicity over the huge expenses of Prime Minister Netanyahu in running his political affairs and his household expenses charged to the state. President Peres did not attend because he evidently had the flu. There has been a great deal of speculation over whether a political message accompanied this snub by Netanyahu of the most important political funeral held thus far in this century.

Dow commented: “In view of the many challenges that the Prime Minister of Israel is facing today – Iran; negotiations with the Palestinians; cracks in his coalition, etc. etc. – his not being at the funeral doesn’t seem to be that serious a matter,” and then speculated whether Bibi received poor advice or whether his wife’s “intuition” decided such matters. I think missing the funeral was a very serious matter because symbolism matters. It will take a bit of sideways reasoning to make my case. And I do so because I both admire Joseph Mandela enormously but also want him to be seen with all his shortcomings.

I had written to my cousin, Sarah, who had earlier enquired about Mandela’s relationship to Israel. I told her that Mandela was indeed a “strong supporter of the Palestinian cause and a critic of Israel, but not of the likes of Desmond Tutu. He praised Zionism in his book and saw it as a legitimate expression of Jewish nationalism and self-determination that he wanted for his own people.. He openly admired Jews and many of his supporters were Jews. He thought that, because of their history, Jews were more sensitive to racism. The missive that went out under his name attacking Zionism was actually written and sent out by a  Palestinian activist, Arjan el Fassed. I also mistakenly simplified and wrote that Mandela never equated Israel with apartheid. I should have more correctly written that Mandela never reduced Israel to an apartheid regime though he actually did accuse Israel of apartheid practices.

Mandela also credited his understanding of guerilla warfare when he switched to violent opposition to the apartheid regime to a South African Jew, Arthur Goldreich, who fought in the Palmach in the Israeli War of Independence. Four of his lawyers at his trial for treason were Jews. Thirteen of his co-defendants were Jews. When the Chief Rabbi of South Africa declined his invitation to officiate at his wedding because it was being held on a Saturday, Mandela arranged a second ceremony for the preceding Friday so that the Chief Rabbi could come and officiate.

However, Mandela also identified with the Palestinian cause, viewed it as a continuation of the struggle in South Africa for self-determination and freedom, consistently opposed Israeli occupation and the expansion of the settlements and denied the characterization of the PLO as a terrorist organization. But he did echo, though he did not use a meagaphone, the views of Desmond Tutu, Mondli Makhanya and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge who continually publicized Mandela’s characterization of the situation in the West Bank as a form of apartheid that was worse and more brutal than anything experienced in South Africa, for the Bantustans in South Africa were never surrounded by a separation wall that so overwhelmingly inhibits freedom of movement. Nor were separate military courts used, as is done to try Palestinians from the West Bank, while reserving domestic courts for Israelis even in the West Bank.

My friend, George Solger, in response to my insistence that calling Israel an apartheid state is a calumny, offered a classic Mandela argument.

Your statement that what is seen in the West Bank is a military
occupation and not Apartheid would be OK if the occupation were
temporary, but it has become permanent .Palestinians in the West Bank are governed by military laws whereas settlers are governed by civilian law, the settlers seem to
get away with almost anything against their Palestinian neighbours.
There are roads in the West Bank for Jews only, mostly the best ones.
The Knesset makes rules that apply in the Occupied Territories yet the
inhabitants of same do not vote in the Knesset. Water use, even from
the aquifer in the West Bank is very unequal, favouring Israeli Jews.
Palestinians from the West Bank cannot go freely into  (or through)
Israel no matter what their business is. The right of return to Israel
applies to Jews but not to Palestinians. Jews and Arabs have different
identity cards and there are consequences for employment. If a
Palestinian living in Israel marries one in the Occupied Territories
there are residence problems for the spouse from the Territories and I
believe also for the offspring . This is by no means a complete list of
official discriminatory regulations. This official discrimination is
intended to keep Israel as free of Palestinian presence, influence and
power as possible, i.e. Jewish domination.
I think this fits the definition of the UN Rome conference

Most of those charges are true. Except the Occupation is not and has not become permanent. If Oslo had succeeded, if Arafat had not reneged on acceding to the peace agreement, occupation would have ended by now. Further, the intention of all the alleged discrimination was not intended to keep Israel as free of Palestinian presence, influence and power as possible. Rather, the launch of the terror solution by the PLO undermined all kinds of worker, business, tourist, academic, scientific and many more other exchanges and forms of intercourse between the two groups.

Nevertheless, like Solger, Mandela did think of Israel as not only engaging in apartheid practices, but was in essence an apartheid state. In a 2001 letter to Thomas Friedman (, he wrote, “Perhaps it is strange for you to observe the situation in Palestine or more specifically, the structure of political and cultural relationships between Palestinians and Israelis, as an Apartheid system.” For Mandela, the root cause of the apartheid is not the occupation but the ethnic cleansing of three quarters of a million Palestinian refugees, the denial of their right to return and the destruction of all those villages in 1948. My friend George Solger has written and supports applying the epithet of apartheid to Israel for the same reason Mandela did, because Israel insists that it must ever remain a Jewish state and denies the right of the Palestinians to ever become a majority of the polity in all of historic Palestine.

Mandela wrote, “Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular, waged a war against a civilian population, in particular children.” Yet Irwin Cotler, a Zionist champion, was also Mandela’s lawyer.

Must Jews, in championing Mandela as a prophet of freedom and self-determination also ignore his accusations against Israel as guilty of apartheid or, perhaps hypocritically, push that characterization into a closet while eulogies are showered upon a man of greatness. Some, as Roy Iscawitz does, urge Netanyahu to follow in the footsteps of de Klerk in South Africa and opt for peace and reconciliation.

If the South African analogy is applied to Israel, Netanyahu plays the De Klerk role. He can continue being the bloody ethnic warlord with a powerful army at his disposal or he can overcome the atavistic tribalism of his background and undergo what De Klerk described in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech as “a process of introspection, of soul searching; of repentance; of realization of the futility of ongoing conflict, of acknowledgement of failed policies and the injustice it brought with it. As De Klerk said in the same speech: ‘The question that we must ask is whether we are making progress toward the goal of universal peace, or are we caught up on a treadmill of history, turning forever on the axle of mindless aggression and self-destruction? Repression, injustice and exploitation are inimical with peace. Peace is gravely threatened by inter-group fear and envy and by the unleashing of unrealistic expectations. Racial, class and religious intolerance and prejudice are its mortal enemies.’ The choice is Netanyahu’s.

Ironically, however you characterize Mandela, one could never say he was two-faced let alone multi-faced. On one hand, he can be seen as both a champion of national self-determination but critical of “separatist” Jewish self-determination akin to Zulu separatist nationalism in South Africa. From that ideological position, Mandela arrives at his characterization of the Israeli state as guilty of apartheid practices. However, there are those who simply ignore his politics, ignore his assertions about apartheid applied to Israel and engage only with Mandela as a man of justice and reconciliation. Linda Rabinovich, a 44-year old South African Jew who stood for hours in line to pass by his coffin and pay tribute to the great man said, “As a Jew, I think there’s a similarity between the Holocaust and apartheid…I feel that we, the Jews, could have done more … Mandela was an amazing man and I felt the need to be here today, to take part in a historic, seminal moment. I wanted to be able to tell my grandchildren one day that I was here, and show them pictures.”

There are also those who go even further, who see Mandela not only as a champion of reconciliation while ignoring his ideological politics, but view Netanyahu as akin to de Klerk in need of coming to an epiphany. They would urge Netanyahu to follow in de Klerk’s footsteps without indicating any critical self-consciousness of what such an equivalence signifies. Fourth, on the abstract theological plane, the great and illustrious Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who was born in South Africa, follows that course but at a level removed from politics altogether. ( Sacks had a personal connection with Mandela because his family law firm was the first to have a black lawyer, Nelson Mandela, as a member of the firm.

In Jonathan Sack’s commentary on this week’s parashat dealing with the story of Joseph (thank you Sandy), the story is seen as the first exemplification of political reconciliation and forgiveness between Joseph and his brothers. Further, the story is also an exemplification of providence and trust in God’s ultimate intentions instead of surrendering to the bleak prognostications that seem to be dictated by current circumstances. “This is a crucial moment in the history of faith. It marks the birth of forgiveness, the first recorded moment at which one person forgives another for a wrong they have done. But it also establishes another important principle: the idea of divine providence.” Mandela, a modern Joseph, is here viewed not merely as the modern exemplification of forgiveness and reconciliation but of faith and trust in the final beneficent outcome rather than in surrendering to the bleak prognostications of the present. His tenacity and determination is as important as his sense of forgiveness and reconciliation. But his politics are bracketed.

I, however, differ in all these interpretations and do not ignore the biblical interpretive one to hep shed light on the situation. Recall that Joseph was not only a mature man of reconciliation and forgiveness, but a snitch on his brothers whenever they did anything amiss. (Genesis 37:2) Further, Joseph was a seer and visionary who prophesied his own power over his brothers who hated and resented him. (Genesis 37:7-8) And they conspired against him and cast him in a pit from which he was rescued. Rather than living in a cell for 27 years, Joseph was sold into slavery instead. The difference between Mandela and Joseph is that Mandela spent a long period in purgatory while Joseph rose to power within an authoritarian regime.  Mandela rose to power by standing against an authoritarian and oppressive regime. Joseph’s act of reconciliation was an act of noblesse oblige rather than just overcoming resentments, a rediscovery of a desire to be one again with his family once he had achieved power. There are so many ways in which Mandela was a far greater man than Joseph.

But there are also many ways in which Mandela was worse. First, Joseph never made the mistake of resorting to terror to bring about greater justice and ensuring a fair distribution of resources. Mandela did. For a brief period, he was a member of the South African Communist Party after the Sharpeville massacre. Along with Walter Sisulu and Joe Slovo, he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) that bombed military and infrastructure targets for which he was captured, tried, convicted and sent to prison for 27 years.

Further, Joseph was a brilliant economist in developing the financial strategies of a state. Mandela was honest, but was inadequate when dealing with the structured inequalities and the horrific housing for Blacks in post-apartheid South Africa. He espoused economic empowerment of Blacks and encouraging small and medium entrepreneurial development to restructure locally while encouraging and fostering global trade (the Reconstruction and Development Program – RDP – of the ANC), in other words, pursue capitalism at both the global, national and local levels through a neo-liberal agenda of controlling inflation and encouraging foreign trade. At the same time, his party insisted that the socialist politics of redistribution was also needed to guarantee a better life for all, Mandela proved unable to significantly advance the latter while pursuing the former.

When the focus is on exports both regionally and globally through trade liberalization, when the infrastructure was geared to roads and railroads, communications and transportation but housing policies were ignored, then the slums continued and the conditions were not in place to take up the labour of all those in the vast townships.  True, health, education and welfare services improved for Blacks, but not the housing situation in any significant way, and the terrible housing contributed to the ill health and despair of the Back population more than anything else. The proof was in the pudding – the large firms under white control thrived but accompanied by very low growth rates and high Black unemployment while the costs of social security and the wages for public servants soared. Further, though his neo-liberal export strategy largely succeeded, in good part because of the pent-up demand for South African agricultural products, especially wines, apples and oranges, its booming mines and its role as the centre for automobile assembly for Africa, even his monetary policy failed. Though inflation was kept in check, the country experienced attacks against its currency, the Rand, both in 1996 and 1998.

If Mandela lacked Joseph’s peaceable instincts and his fiscal astuteness, he also lacked Joseph’s deceptive cunning. For Mandela remained a moralist in which ideological convictions, rather than detailed empirical analysis and psychological astuteness, determined his strategies and tactics. Just as he superimposed Sweden – incidentally, the ANC’s largest funder by far – inappropriately on South Africa, he also superimposed his analysis of South Africa on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In this dimension, Joseph also comes out on top for he always adapted his strategies and tactics to the particulars of a situation.   

Does that mean that I do not think that Mandela was the greatest statesman of the twentieth century? Not at all. I see no one who comes close. But was he a god or even a saint? No, just a very great man with serious human and intellectual flaws and we do him a disservice to not point them out. For we end up perpetuating injustices on others by turning an icon into an object of saintly worship, especially when it leads to denigrating others like Netanyahu, needs criticism but not demonization to complement the canonization of Joseph Mandela. Nevertheless, Netanyahu did not help Israel by cancelling his trip just when the BDS campaign against Israel is getting several boosts.

That does not make Mandela right about applying the epithet, apartheid, to Israel. Idolatry remains the greatest sin for Jews.

Nelson Mandela

There will be much praise and many accolades for one of the greatest, if not the greatest statesman of the twentieth century. I have only two stories to add. Steve Lewis, in the wonderful CBC broadcast this evening dedicated to Mandela, praised Brian Mulroney for his leadership at the Commonwealth in taking on Margaret Thatcher and leading the charge against apartheid. Canada held a special place in Mandela’s heart because of Brian Mulroney’s leadership. 

I saw another aspect of Brian Mulroney’s commitment to human rights, the opposition to apartheid and the Canadian support for Nelson Mandela. The first time was at a dinner in Toronto only a few months after Nelson Mandela had been released from prison in 1990. I cannot remember why I had been invited, but it was an honour to attend. I was at the round table immediately to the right of Nelson Mandela sitting at the raised head table so I had the perfect profile view of our honored guest. Brian Mulroney introduced Nelson Mandela and announced that Canada was offering a gift to the ANC via Nelson Mandela of five million dollars to help the organization transform from a resistance organization to a full-fledged political party. Nelson stood to speak and thank Canada for its gift. But he began with what seemed like a dragged out shaggy dog story and it was not clear where he was going with his discussion of the state of the modern economic world until he said, “Given all that, I presume the gift is in American dollars.” The Canadian dollar was then worth, if I recall, about 85 cents to the $US. The wit, the sly way his joke was introduced, the perfect timing, brought the house down. I had never seen a stand-up comic do as well. Brian Mulroney, who could hardly contain his laughter, stood up and said: “OK, five million in American dollars.” The applause was deafening and very prolonged. With wit, warmth and a smile, but also with genuine gratitude, Mandela garnered an extra $750,000 to a million for his cause. 
In the second instance, in my research on Rwanda when we studied the international failures to stop the genocide, we learned that Brian Mulroney was the only international leader of a government to twice, not just once, write President Habyarimana of Rwanda before the massive murders ever began in 1994 – after all, Mulroney left office in 1993. In his letters, he asked Habyarimana to look into the human rights violations and targeting of Tutsis in Rwanda. 
We also learned that just before Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994, just after the genocide broke out in full force on 6 April 1994, there were no international journalists in Rwanda. There were 3500 in South Africa, many if not most expecting civil war and a blood bath when Nelson Mandela assumed the presidency. When South Africa appeared not to be heading towards civil war, the international journalists started heading home. Two of the 3500 decided to stop in Rwanda to check out the rumours of a blood bath taking place in Rwanda. Thus, by chance, the world began to hear about the genocide underway. 
We could see one path that South Africa could have traveled. To a very large extent, Mandela made sure that South Africa took the path of reconciliation. Indirectly, he also brought the genocide to world attention even before he assumed the mantle of the presidency, but to little avail since the world community largely stood by as the massacres took place. There was not one leader anywhere close to his stature who stood up and said “Never Again!”
Like most tourists to South Africa, I visited Robbins Island, the prison where Mandela spent most of the 27 years he was incarcerated. I think of that prison and still find it hard to imagine how a man of his stature and accomplishments emerged from such an ordeal.
As everyone says, and they truly mean it, he will be sorely missed.