Peace Now's Yariv Oppenheimer in Walla: Netanyahu has no place at Mandela's funeral

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The Israeli right's eulogies for the South African freedom fighter ranged from unawareness to hypocrisy. Even if there is not full symmetry between apartheid and the occupation, Israel still stands for everything Mandela fought against

Why aren't the Netanyahus going to Nelson Mandela's funeral? The reason is surely not the high costs of the flight (after all, the budget for the couple's attendance of Thatcher's funeral was found without difficulty) nor a sudden fit of humility. Yet still, the Prime Minister is looking for any excuse to avoid standing next to the world's leaders to pay last respects to the man who fought and defeated the apartheid regime - and he knows why.

When Netanyahu, Benet, Miri Regev and their colleagues in the right wing eulogized Mandela on their Facebook pages as "a freedom fighter who by the power of his will managed to change the world," you might have mistaken Mandela for an exceptionally diligent environmentalist or at the most a comic book hero who managed to defeat the forces of evil with his supernatural powers. So many superlatives and clichés and not a word of truth about Mandela's struggle against the apartheid regime. The rule of a white minority over a black majority, a rule of force, discrimination, violence and money.

As opposed to what Netanyahu would like us to think, the apartheid regime was not only a racist regime that discriminated between one man and another because of the color of his skin. The apartheid regime was the implementation of the policy of one nation that sought to rule over another nation. A white minority that ruled by military and economic superiority while dispossessing the country's black majority of its political rights. The whites in the apartheid era wanted to rule over another people, determine its lifestyle for it, maintain a democracy for whites only and enjoy all of the good of the land without sharing equally with the black native majority. Meanwhile, the apartheid government wanted to continue maintaining political and commercial ties with the nations of the world and be considered a legitimate state.

The whites tried to suppress the black uprising by force while punishing and jailing political prisoners, but the images of the dead and wounded tipped the scales and after many years the world understood that South Africa could not belong to the family of nations as long as the apartheid regime persisted

Apartheid was also "a splinter in the backside."

Even if there is not full symmetry with apartheid, you cannot help comparing it to the situation in the occupied territories. The desire of the pro-settler right to continue ruling the territories without giving the Palestinians equal political rights including the vote is identical to the white minority's desire to rule South Africa and maintain a political system that neutralized the black majority. The belief that "everything will work out" and it is nothing but "a splinter in the backside" is also identical in both cases. But the painful conclusions the apartheid regime had to face have failed to get through, even though they are so obvious: we cannot continue ruling the territories without giving the Palestinians full citizenship or alternatively their own state. Any other solution would entail discrimination and occupation and is bound to disappear, if not peacefully then painfully.

The critical difference in the world's view of the two cases was and remains the belief that as opposed to apartheid, Israel's desire to remain in the territories is temporary and stems from security motives rather than being a permanent solution. That might be true but the construction of tens of thousands of housing units in the settlements undermines and blurs even that difference. By such actions, the Israeli governments of the last decades have gradually been making the occupation of the territories irreversible.

Netanyahu's speech writer is on vacation and the Prime Minister will try to disappear this week for a few hours and let the world remember and reminisce without him. Nelson Mandela's death embarrasses the Israeli government and its leader and puts Israel in an almost impossible position. Besides the residue of the past - which includes the cooperation between the Israeli government and the apartheid regime, Israel's late joining of the sanctions against it and Mandela's personal dislike of Israel - the death of that great leader embarrasses the Israeli leadership because of the values he represented and for which he fought his whole life.

Like Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln before him, Nelson Mandela turned during his lifetime into an icon of the struggle of the weak and the oppressed for freedom, equality and democracy. You cannot praise them without projecting on the reality in the territories for which the primary responsibility lies with the government of Israel.

Yariv Oppenheimer is the secretary general of Peace Now

This article first appeared December 9, 2013 in Hebrew at Walla.co.il

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