Image: Library Am Guisanplatz de Collection Rutishauser, via Wikimedia Commons
F.W. de Klerk died on November 11, 2021. He was 85. De Klerk is one of my heroes. Like Mikhail Gorbachev, he decided at some point that no more people should die in a hopeless cause – apartheid in de Klerk’s case and Soviet Communism in Gorbachev’s.
People wanting to blame Palestinians for their own predicament like to ask, “Where is the Palestinian Mandela?” In Inroads in 2014 I wrote, “This is the wrong question. Mandela languished in South African prisons for decades as apartheid thrived. Let us ask instead: Where is the Israeli de Klerk? If Netanyahu were an Israeli de Klerk, (Palestine President Mahmoud) Abbas would be the Palestinian Mandela.”1
Of course, de Klerk didn’t do it alone. For starters, there had to be enough pressure on South Africa. The boycott and especially sanctions were effective – South Africa had been kicked out of the Commonwealth and international sports, for example. While many Whites believed that de Klerk was a traitor, others knew apartheid was a lost cause.
To be a de Klerk, you must be a person of vision – to see the end of apartheid – and courage – to stand against your own people. But you have to be successful, too. Imagine if, just before he stepped down, de Klerk had been assassinated by a White nationalist and his successor had stopped the whole transition. In that case, de Klerk wouldn’t be de Klerk and Mandela wouldn’t be Mandela.
It is possible, then, that Israel has had a de Klerk. According to this theory, Yitzhak Rabin had two out of three: a vision of the end of expansionist Zionism and the courage to stand against his own people. But he was murdered by one of his own and a successor saw that Rabin’s efforts came to naught. So now liberals and radicals can argue about whether Rabin was saviour or shyster – just as South African liberals and radicals would be arguing about, had he been killed, de Klerk.
Following his death, a video was released in which de Klerk stated, “I, without qualification, apologize for the pain and the hurt and the indignity and the damage that apartheid has done to Black, Brown and Indians in South Africa. I do so not only in my capacity as the former leader of the National Party, but also as an individual.”2
Blessed are the peacemakers.
1 “President Mahmoud Abbas,” Inroads, Summer/Fall 2014, p. 53.
2 “Text of de Klerk’s Video Message to South Africa,” Reuters, November 11, 2021.