Nelson Mandela has died, zichrono l'tovah. To listen to the press and various heads of state, the man made Albert Schweitzer and Mahatma Gandhi look like amateurs in the business of being a saint.
There's no doubt that Mandela was in the right time and place when apartheid crumbled in South Africa. No one else had the credentials, both as a freedom fighter [and/or terrorist, depending on who was describing him] and as a symbol of the sacrifices of that fight, and the good sense to openly eschew bitterness and revenge and so be a shining example of what he wanted his people to be, and as a result the transition occurred almost without violence from a brutal to a democratic regime.
But while he had the sense to be on good terms with South Africa's Jewish community, who had been in the forefront of the white anti-apartheid protest movement [the founder of the Black Sash, the women's organization, was a Jewish woman], the reality is that he enthusiastically supported Arafat and the PLO, even during the first intifada, which was hardly non-violent. Moreover, his comments regarding Israel were definitely tinged with anti-Semitism, although he was nowhere as vitriolic as Desmond Tutu.
Mandela was, in other words, a man and not a saint. He did his country a great deal of good, and for that he should be remembered with approbation. But he had a less pleasant side as well, and that should be remembered, too.
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