Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mandela: 'Arafat is a Comrade-in-Arms'

If you search the Internet for evidence of Nelson Mandela's support for the Palestinian struggle, you'll generally come across this particular statement: "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."

Given that too little is known of his principled and unequivocal support for the Palestinians (never of course referenced in the mainstream media), I'm posting the relevant sections of an interview he did with the presenter of the US Nightline program, Ted Koppel in 1990. The interview took place at a public meeting in the City College of New York. At the time, Mandela, not long out of prison, was in the US on a tour, advocating for the continuation of international sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Needless to say, Koppel being Koppel, New York being New York, and the US being the US, the question of Mandela's links with Yasser Arafat and the PLO loomed large at the meeting.

Note that I've selected only Mandela's statements on this issue, simplified Koppel's rambling questions, and, in only one case, abridged Mandela's answer. The entire interview, along with Mandela's trademark dignity, gravitas and humour, can be enjoyed at (My tribute to vintage Nelson Mandela of South Africa part 2)

Mandela: We identify with the PLO because, just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination.

Koppel: You met over 3 times with Yasser Arafat.

Mandela: Yasser Arafat, Colonel Gaddafi and Fidel Castro support our struggle to the hilt.

Koppel: You've said some controversial things which might alienate some people in this country. That could cause them to contact their congressman and say, 'Go ahead, lift the sanctions on the South African government.'

Mandela: One of the problems we are facing in the world today are people who do not look at problems objectively but from the point of view of their own interests. That makes things difficult because once a person is not objective, it is extremely difficult to reach an agreement. One of the best examples of this is to think that because Arafat is conducting a struggle against the state of Israel we must therefore condemn him. We can't do that. It is just not possible for any organisation or individual of integrity to do anything of the sort... It would be a grave mistake for us to consider our attitude towards Yasser Arafat on the basis of the interests of the Jewish community. We sympathise with the struggles of the Jewish people and their persecution right down the years... but that does not mean to say that the enemies of Israel are our enemies. We refuse to take that position. You can call it 'impolitical' [Koppel had been suggesting that Mandela needed to be more political/flexible to win American Jewish support] or a moral question [a Jewish leader had earlier accused Mandela of being amoral] but a man who changes his principles depending on who he's dealing with - that is not a man who can lead a nation... They must know what our stand is: Arafat is a comrade-in-arms and we treat him as such.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well put, Nelson Mandela.