Mandela was inspiring. His complex character encompassed a set of contradictions that few people are able to exhibit. He was an ideologue but also a pragmatist, a dreamer but also a shrewd politician, a warrior but also a peacemaker. He brought the worst of enemies together and put them on a course to recreate South Africa.
Yet Mandela was a politician as well as a freedom fighter; and politics – even freedom politics - is ultimately a power struggle where there are winners and losers, creating friends and enemies. Mandela was also a statesman who made or influenced economic decisions that impacted the daily lives of millions of people. He made bad decisions and people suffered as a consequence. He made good decisions but not everyone benefited. So it is understandable that some South Africans would hate him, or simply be disenchanted by the leader.
"Hate unites all sorts of people, and in this region sworn enemies were united in their hatred towards Mandela or what he represented."Abdullah Hamidaddin
Outside South Africa there also those who hate him, disrespect him, and most of all loath the almost universal and unanimous adoration for Mandela’s character and the values he stood for. However, those are not individuals that suffered due to the corruption and failed polices of the ANC. Those are individuals who hate him for what he stands for. They hate him because they hate peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and justice.
Hate unites all sorts of people, and in this region sworn enemies were united in their hatred towards Mandela or what he represented. Some Israelis and some Saudis are united by the slogan of “make no peace!” and saw Mandela as an anathema.
An opponent to oppression is an enemy of Israel
Most Israelis love, admire and respect Nelson Mandela, but there are Israelis who characterized him as an enemy of Israel and Zionism. An Op-Ed titled “Mandela Was an Enemy of Israel” its writer said “Mandela was an enabler of anti-Semitic terrorism.” Such sentiment is because of Mandela’s stance towards Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.
For many Israelis, any support for the Palestinians is equivalent to hating the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Mandela had warned that Israel’s insistence of being a Jewish state was one step towards Apartheid. He also believed that the freedom of the South Africans was not complete without the freedom of the Palestinians.
The notion that Mandela hates Israel was widely believed enough that the South African Ambassador in Israel Sisa Ngombane made a statement clarifying that South Africans do not hate Israel, they hate oppression." He didn’t make it any better, however, because his sentiment implies Israelis are oppressing the Palestinians. He made it worse for those who hated Mandela when he added that “Mandela was the man of the downtrodden, and this is why it is said he identified with the Palestinians.”
Further exacerbating the problem he added that “thought that Israel has problems related to human dignity.” This ill feeling towards Mandela explains why Netanyahu ended up not attending the funeral. It may also explain why no one from the Israeli cabinet or Knesset attend Mandela’s memorial held by the South African ambassador to Israel. After all, Netanyahu, his cabinet and most Knesset members, have been second to none in consistently oppressing the Palestinians and depriving them of their rights.
Enemy of ‘all or nothing’ is an enemy of Arabs
In Saudi Arabia there were also Mandela haters and for reasons not far from Israeli ones. Much of the Saudi coverage on Mandela seemed as if it was a discussion on peace and reconciliation in the region, and most of it was positively pro-peace. Most emphasized his peaceful approach and likened him with The Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
The conclusions of those writings are critical of the discourse of violence and hate and propose a turn to peace. Peace proponents also reminded us that Mandela had started off as a warrior and only turned to peace in his later years. The message was clear: those of us who are still fighting should lay down our arms and seek alternative routes to lifting the many injustices perpetrated against them.
This positive sentiment towards Mandela and peaceful resolution of conflicts was also expressed in the Saudi government’s position towards Mandela, which sent a very high-level delegation headed by its Second Deputy Premier Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz to attend the funeral.
This peaceful vision of Mandela worried some. They chose to accuse him of betraying his cause because he turned to peace. They attacked him for compromising, for stepping away from his principles, for letting go of “an all or nothing” approach, from partnering up with his former enemies and oppressors of his people instead of sidelining them or even eradicating them.They were really writing about South Africa, Mandela, and the Whites but what they had in mind was The Arab-Israeli conflict, Arab peace advocates, and the Israelis. One commentator even went as far as to claim that depicting Mandela as a peacemaker could be a conspiracy to delegitimize violent struggle.
Fighting Peace Icons
The hatemongers on both sides are keen to remind us of how bad he was. They are united by fear from peace and reconciliation. They thrive on hate and on war. Their identity is based on a hateful ‘othering,’ which creates a continuous state of conflict. The values of Mandela are an abomination. And they are adamant on waging a war against him and destroying his image as an icon of peace.
But also on both sides of the wall there are those who want peace. And they are not naive. They understand the high cost of peace and the compromise and sacrifice it demands. They understand you must let go of what one believes it is absolutely and morally entitled to it. They realize that an ongoing state of conflict will only bring all sides closer to self-destruction and annihilation. They are few in numbers. But they are increasing. And I pray that the region brings forward its own Mandela out of those people despite all the odds. My only fear is that before that happens the current course followed by the powers in the region will destroy us all.
Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1