Despite personifying peace and reconciliation during his life, a young Nelson Mandela may have actually been trained in "judo, sabotage and weaponry" by Israel's spy service, a new top secret document alleges.
According to a report by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the South African icon was among a group of anti-apartheid activists who absconded to Ethiopia in 1962 to train with agents of the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service.
France 24 explains that Mandela secretly fled South Africa as a young freedom fighter to lobby the leaders of other African nations for military and financial support for the African National Council.
Haaretz writes that the Israeli Foreign Ministry received a letter dated Oct. 11, 1962, that was likely written by a Mossad agent in Ethiopia. The letter describes the training of a man named David Mobsari, who the agent later came to believe was Mandela.
The letter partly reads:
As you may recall, three months ago we discussed the case of a trainee who arrived at the [Israeli] embassy in] Ethiopia by the name of David Mobsari who came from Rhodesia. The aforementioned received training from the Ethiopian [Israeli embassy staff, almost certainly Mossad agents] in judo, sabotage and weaponry.
He greeted our men with “Shalom”, was familiar with the problems of Jewry and of Israel and gave the impression of being an intellectual. The staff tried to make him into a Zionist.
South Africa scholar David Fachler, who discovered the letter, wrote an op-ed in Haaretz alongside the publicly release of the letter. In his column, Fachler noted the complicated relationship between Israel and South Africa, which came under the microscope again this month when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled plans to attend Mandela's funeral and memorial.
As Gawker notes, if the letter proves authentic, it could alter Mandela's legacy, who is otherwise known to have embraced leaders and movements, such as Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization, that opposed Israel. Some defenders have dismissed the letter's veracity and called it an attempt to smear the recently deceased Madiba, with one South African political organizer tweeting, "Twas only a matter of time before some try to 'discredit' Tata."