S. African's Visit Draws Criticism

B'nai B'rith Invitation Irks Black-jewish Group

December 05, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

The county's black-Jewish coalition has criticized a prominent Jewish service organization in Annapolis for inviting the South Africanambassador to speak at one of its meetings.

After several weeks of internal discussion about Harry Schwarz's scheduled Dec. 8 visit tospeak at a B'nai B'rith meeting, the coalition issued a statement this week calling South African society "an affront to all decent people everywhere."

"Ambassador Schwarz's visit to our city reminds us that the all-white minority government of South Africa continues to deny the right to vote to the majority of its black citizens," the African American-Jewish Coalition of Anne Arundel County said in the statement.

FOR THE RECORD - A story in yesterday's Anne Arundel County Sun about a visit to Annapolis by the South African ambassador incorrectly reported the location of his Dec. 8 speech.
Harry Schwarz is scheduled to speak at the Ramada Inn.

"Furthermore, hundreds of black political prisoners are incarcerated, merely because of their political views . . . Since the Ambassador represents the South African government, many leading African-Americans have refused to meet with him."

The coalition, formedlast summer to unite local black and Jewish communities, has so far concentrated its efforts on unifyingprojects, such as celebrating theliberation of black Jews from Ethiopia.

But to the black community, the invitation to a representative of the South African governmentcouldn't be overlooked.

Said Annapolis Alderman Carol O. Snowden,"It's difficult to understand how any person can be part of a government that continues to take away the rights of people because of the color of their skin."

Schwarz is scheduled to speak Dec. 8 at the Loews Annapolis Hotel. David Glick, an Annapolis attorney and vice-president of the Allen J. Reiter Lodge of B'nai B'rith in Annapolis, met with coalition members to discuss the controversy over Schwarz's visit.

Schwarz is a member of the Jewish Conference of Deputies, an organization that handles Jewish affairs in South Africa, Glick said.He was invited to speak "as a member of B'nai B'rith about B'nai B'rith matters in South Africa. This is not a political orientation."

Glick observed that the ambassador remains a member of South Africa's opposition party and has fought his government's racist policies all his life. Schwarz's family came to South Africa in 1933 as refugeesfrom Hitler's Europe, and his stated goal has always been eradicating apartheid, Glick said.

Jewish coalition members also tempered their criticism, noting B'nai B'rith's long record of working for social equality.

"As a member of B'nai B'rith, I can understand the ambassador, who is also a member of B'nai B'rith and who is anti-apartheid, being invited by someone who knew him in South Africa," said coalition co-chairman Donald Aronson. "It's a natural happening.

"But what we're trying to do is point out that there can be insensitivity.If you don't know the other group, you don't know how deep their sensitivities are. South Africa is to (African-Americans) what we (Jews)considered Nazi Germany to be to us. It's important to understand that sensitivity and act on it.

"(The ambassador) is maybe a wonderful guy, but he's still a representative of a government that is oppressive. We try to see both sides, and we stand with our brothers and sisters in condemning that regime," added Aronson. "We didn't like it when it happened to us; we don't like it when it happens to them."

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