The question can be split into 2 parts:

  • Did he compare Israel to apartheid as an analogy?
  • Did he directly accuse Israel of the crime of apartheid?

Currently, the only mention of "Nelson Mandela" in the wikipedia article Israel and the apartheid analogy is that his former counsel disagrees with the analogy/accusation.

I saw the claim most recently in a comment on a Reddit thread about "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calling Israel an apartheid state" which stated, "As did Nelson Mandela" and received over 1.9k upvotes.

  • 4
    I know of this speech which is perhaps the origin of the claim - I'm not sure how exacting you expect quotes to be from reddit. mandela.gov.za/mandela_speeches/1997/971204_palestinian.htm
    – CJR
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 12:28
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    As exacting as can be found. Wikipedia is an excellent source of secondary research, and a great starting point, but a link to the original source for the claim is what we look for if possible, if it's not available or there is doubt cast on it's existence in the first place (for example) then we would include that information too. Welcome to Skeptics. Commented May 25, 2021 at 16:38

2 Answers 2


The most often attributed quote in this context that I could find is:

Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property.

However, while originating from a letter to the NYT that was signed "Nelson Mandela", the letter is not from Mandela, but a mock letter written by Arjan El Fassed, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada.

Mandela's views on Israel have been a bit more nuanced. He criticized Israel's cooperation with the South African apartheid regime (while acknowledging that "it did not participate in any atrocities") and Israel's 'occup[ation of] Arab lands', and on the other hand recognized Israel's 'right to exist as a democratic Jewish state' and its legitimate security concerns.

  • Ok, not insinuating anything, but how can we be sure these things are correct ? Especially the JC opinion is imo not totally beyond any doubt of being non-partisan.
    – user59454
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 16:22
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    @a_donda Arjan El Fassed confirmed it on electronic intifada: the Mandela memo was only a piece of satire. The source the Monthly Review linked to - the tumbler account of El Fassed where he goes into detail on his pov of the issue - is down, but can still be accessed on wayback.
    – tim
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 16:34
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    Thank you for your answer! but I feel that reading the sources that you provided gives a slightly different impression than what your answer gives. My main concern is the 3rd source, where it was said: 'While he supported Zionism in principle, he believed that if there was to be peace in the Middle East, Israel must negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians and avoid becoming a binational “apartheid state” – or risk becoming an international pariah like apartheid South Africa' .
    – user126100
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 19:20
  • my second concern is from the first source, where quotes like 'called Israel that year a “terrorist state”' and 'that “injustice and gross human rights violations were being perpetrated in Palestine”' seem to paint a more intense criticism than one would get from just reading your answer.
    – user126100
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 19:23
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    @user126100 I focused on the primary claim which essentially says '[Mandela called] Israel an apartheid state'. I think his detailed views about Israel would be beyond the scope of the question. I think 'avoid becoming a binational “apartheid state”' doesn't really match that claim as it's directed at a (potential) future (I also assume that part is less about Israel, but more about Gaza and the West Bank, which he might have seen as being at risk if Israel were to seize control; though I wasn't able to find more context around the quote).
    – tim
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 19:34

Yes. He did. Not just did he do it but he did on video in a 1990 Town Hall Meeting with Nelson Mandela on Palestine, Cuba and other issues

As far as Yassar Arafat is concerned, I explained to Mr. Sigmund that we identify with the [Palestine Liberation Organization] because just like ourselves they are fighting for the right of self-determination. - Nelson Mandela.

The PLO was actively engaged in a fight on multiple fronts against apartheid and for self-determination. If the ANC's leader identifies with someone else's fight, and the organization leading that fight I read that to be a direct comparison between the conditions of South Africa and Palestine.

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    There were two questions in the OP. Mandela's response sounds to me like "mostly" to the first and "no" to the second. He didn't directly accuse Israel of apartheid, but he identified with the struggles of the Palestinians with respect to self-determination which is sort of an apartheid analogy. Commented May 25, 2021 at 22:46
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    @TrixieWolf I don't think that any struggle for self-determination is an apartheid analogy. Take for example the basque national liberation movement. It fought for self-determination, but few people would say that Spain is an apartheid regime. I think it's a stretch to say that Mandela called Israel an apartheid state when he identified with a right for self-determination. I also think it's important to remember that apartheid is a specific system - characterized by institutionalized racial segregation (something that doesn't exist in Israel) - , not just a generic "bad".
    – tim
    Commented May 26, 2021 at 9:11
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    This is a quote that does not contain the word "apartheid" and so cannot be taken as evidence for Mandela either directly accusing or comparing Israel with apartheid. As such, this isn't answering the question posted. Had the question been "has Mandela ever expressed support for or solidarity with the PLO", then it would be relevant but that isn't what this question was asking.
    – terdon
    Commented May 26, 2021 at 12:55
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    The question was: "Did Nelson Mandela directly compare or accuse Israel of apartheid?" For this to be true, as an absolute minimum, the word "apartheid" should be present in the text you quote. As it isn't present, your answer is necessarily wrong.
    – Gábor
    Commented May 26, 2021 at 12:58
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    @user157251 Saying that they identify with fighting "for a right of self-determination" is not saying they were victims of apartheid. The Confederate States of America were also fighting for self-determination, but I think we can all agree that they were not victims of apartheid.
    – reirab
    Commented May 26, 2021 at 20:56

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