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July 26, 1991 - Image 86

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-07-26

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Pretoria's Precedent

South Africa's first Jewish

ambassador is charged
with convincing American

Jews to end their opposition
to economic sanctions.


Washington Correspondent

epending on your
point of view, the
choice of Harry
Schwarz as South Africa's
new ambassador to Wash-
ington was a shrewd and
cynical political move — or a
reflection of just how far
South Africa has come in a
year of incredible change.
Mr. Schwarz, the first Jew
to serve anywhere as an am-
bassador for South Africa, is
a longtime critic of apart-
heid and the ruling National
Party, the architect of that
nation's system of racial
However, Mr. Schwarz,
who officially assumed his
new post March 1, is also an
accomplished and insistent
salesman whose product —
an end to the economic sanc-
tions that he says are
squeezing the life out of the
South African economy — is
not a particularly popular
one with the American Jew-
ish community.
Anti-apartheid forces here
suspect he was selected for
the Washington post in an
attempt to weaken the pro-
sanctions movement by
driving a wedge between the
movement and the Jewish
community, which has been
highly visible in its support
of sanctions.
Mr. Schwarz, however, in-
sists that his appointment is
a clear signal that the re-
forms unleashed by the
Pretoria government are the
beginnings of a fundamental
transformation of South M-



FRIDAY, JULY 26, 1991

rican society — warranting
the removal of sanctions.
"If I had to describe it, I
would say that I am a mes-
sage rather than an ambas-
sador. The fact that I can
advocate what I have al-
ways believed in shows that
it's what [President Frederik
W.1 De Klerk believes in
He argues that continued
U.S. economic sanctions
jeopardize his nation's
fragile moves toward de-
"Freedom cannot be en-
joyed in poverty and degra-
dation," Mr. Schwarz told a
group convened by the A-
merican Jewish Committee
several weeks ago.
"Fledgling democracies can
fail because of economic
pressures. We need to see to
it that this new South Africa
can get off to a start in
which democracy can sur-
Having intervened in
"internal" South African af-
fairs in the anti-apartheid
cause, Mr. Schwarz said, the
United States now has an
obligation to help that coun-
try in its shift to a more e-
quitable system by helping
its fragile economy survive.
"The United States must
help the South Africa of the
future," he said. "When the
day of freedom comes, I
don't want the people who
have been discriminated
against in South Africa to
say, 'but it isn't any differ-
ent.' "
In conversation, Mr.
Schwarz is forceful, but gen-
erally eschews stridency. He
is a neat, compact man with

Ambassador Schwarz: Sticking to the topic of sanctions.

an almost aristocratic bear-
ing. His speech gives no
hints of his childhood in
Although new to diploma-
cy, he is polished and per-
suasive; despite a reputation
for a hot temper, he picks his
way through controversial
questions with aplomb.
In meetings with Jewish
groups, Mr. Schwarz is at
once familiar and exotic.
While not shy about citing
his own Jewish credentials,
he makes it abundantly clear
that there is a wide gap in
perception and understan-
ding between American
Jews and their South Afri-
can cousins.
He also has a relentless
way of sticking to one or two
key issues, like sanctions.
This is not a man who ram-
bles or engages in wasteful
small talk
In an interview, he sug-
gested that his decades-long
opposition to South Africa's
system of institutionalized
racism is a natural product
of his Jewish background.
That connection, he added,


is shared by many South Af-
rican. Jews, who have been
disproportionately active in
the anti-apartheid move-
And for South African
Jews, the rush to alter South
African society has been ex-
hilarating, but also one that
has stirred up fear among
the community of some
"The Jews have enjoyed a
period of stability in South
Africa," he said. "At the
moment, we are going
through a period of uncer-
tainty —something we share
with many other segments
of the community in South
Africa. We are concerned
about the nature of the con-
stitution that our country
will have, and we are con-
cerned about the nature of
the economic system in the
In the past, he said, the
strong Zionist orientation of
the South African Jewish
community has been a point
of friction with leaders of the
black opposition.
. Mr. Schwarz has been in-

strumental in arranging
meetings between African
National Congress represen-
tatives, including Nelson
Mandela, and leaders of the
South African Jewish com-
The results have been en-
couraging, he said.
"I think we are seeing a
far greater understanding
and a much more amicable
relationship," he said. "The
ANC accepted that they
want friendly relationships
with Israel after the new
South Africa is born. They
accepted the contribution
that the Jewish community
has to the anti-apartheid
struggle...and they accepted
the idea that Jews will have
a role to play in the new
South Africa."
Speaking personally, Mr.
Schwarz said "being Jewish,
you have certain value stan-
dards, and you have a cer-
tain belief that your own
people have been discrimi-
nated against over many
centuries," he said.
"Therefore, you cannot be a
person who discriminates, or
who is party to a discrimi-
nating procedure."
His moral development,
he added, was also influenc-
ed by the Jewish religious
framework imparted by an
Orthodox grandfather.
"I was largely brought up
by my maternal grand-
parents," he said. "I stayed
with them at various times (.=-
in my life. My grandfather
was a student of
Maimonides, who was a very
important part of his life.
That rubbed off on me to a
considerable extent."

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