The international Jewish community praised former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at 95 in his Johannesburg home.

Israeli President Shimon Peres called Mandela “a great leader who changed the course of history. He was a passionate advocate for democracy, a respected mediator, a Nobel peace prize laureate and above all a builder of bridges of peace and dialogue who paid a heavy personal price for his struggle in the years he spent in prison and fighting for his people.”

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement that Mandela “a true hero of freedom … will be long remembered as one of the greatest figures of his generation and one of the most inspirational and effective freedom-fighting figures in modern history.”

The ADL statement, alluding to Mandela’s support for the Palestinian cause, said the organization “did disagree with Mr. Mandela from time to time on some issues. Those differences, however, did not diminish our respect and esteem for this upstanding moral leader.”

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, called Mandela “unquestionably the most inspiring human rights advocate of our times … one of those very rare leaders who were revered not just by their own people but universally, across all political and communal divides.”

Mandela, said Mervyn Smith, head of the African Jewish Congress and a past president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said Mandela “was admired, revered and respected by the Jewish community and by all South Africans.”


“In his life, Nelson Mandela came to embody courage in the face of severe injustice. He stood up against some of the vilest discrimination and inspired all those who share in the belief that every human is created in the image of the Divine,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, called Mandela “a modern-day prophet for human dignity … a historic leader who transformed one of the most racist societies on earth into a democracy with a progressive constitution that respects the rights of all people. He inspired me and millions of other Jews with his message of equality for all.

steve@jewishweek.org