The Israeli Foreign Ministry tried to convince South Africa's apartheid regime not to seek the death penalty in Nelson Mandela's 1964 trial, newly released documents reveal.
According to the documents, which were declassified by the Israel State Archives on Sunday, Israel's stance resulted in a letter to the South African government urging it to negotiate with Mandela and the other defendants in the trial. The letter also criticized the regime's segregationist policies.
In 1964, after Mandela and other members of the African National Congress were indicted for sabotage and conspiracy, then-Foreign Minister Golda Meir urged Israel's charge d'affaires in Cape Town to express Israel's displeasure with the trial. Meir also praised Mandela's now-famous speech denouncing the trial, saying it was "a great performance that put on display immense courage and voiced the pain of millions of Africans."
As a result of Meir's effort, the Israeli Foreign Ministry convinced philosopher Martin Buber and Israeli author Haim Hazaz to send a letter to the government of South Africa to protest the regime's crackdown on the ANC.
"Talk to them. Listen to them. They have something to say. You will not silence their voices by hanging them. ... From the land of Israel, we ask you to assert your faith in the nobility of man, whatever the color of his skin. And if you 'do unto others' in accordance with this faith, the future is yours, and theirs -- and the world's," Buber and Hazaz wrote.
The head of the Israeli mission in Cape Town also sent a cable to Israel detailing the dire financial straits Mandela's wife, Winnie, was facing.