Ehrlich Defends His South African Visit

Finance Minister Simcha Ehrlich defended his recent visit to South Africa against critics who changed, at the 29th World Zionist Congress today, that Israel’s cooperation with a “racist state” put it in disrepute. Ehrlich said he was proud to have made the trip in the interests of strengthening Israel’s economy. “All the talk of national damage has no foundation. We did openly what others are doing under the table,” he declared, adding that “we are willing to receive any assistance, even from Communist countries.” (See related Congress story P.3.)

Ehrlich went to South Africa on Feb. 5 for an eight-day visit, accompanied by his wife and an entourage of Finance Ministry officials. He met with Prime Minister John Vorster, Finance Minister Owen Horwood and Foreign Minister Pik Botha as well as with leaders of the South African Jewish community. The trip was described by Israeli sources as an effort to boast exports to South Africa to help overcome the substantial trade imbalance between the two countries and to sign a treaty abolishing double taxation.

Ehrlich’s visit to South Africa was used as a springboard to attack Israel at the United Nations Human Rights Commission debate on racial discrimination in Geneva last week. The Nigerian delegate referred to the Israeli minister’s trip as evidence that Israel was strengthening its relations with the apartheid regime while most countries were breaking with it. The Syrian delegate accused Israel and South Africa of collaborating to produce nuclear weapons.

SAYS TRIP HELPED ISRAEL

Ehrlich’s trip was assailed at the Zionist Congress today by Prof. Shlomo Avineri of the Labor Party, a former director general of the Foreign Ministry and Ran Cohen, of the Sheli faction.

Avineri asked Ehrlich to explain how Israel could cooperate with a “racist state.” He declared: “How can you explain the positive values of Zionism while you cooperate with a racist government such as that in South Africa?” Cohen said the visit was a slap at national liberation movements and damaging to the Zionist cause.

Ehrlich responded that his visit was in the interests of Israel and he had sought to foster Israel’s economic growth. He affirmed that his trip was not intended to condone practices of the South African government. The Finance Minister was warmly applauded by most of the Congress delegates and his trip was defended by Julius Weinstein, chairman of the South African Zionist Federation.

“As Jews and as Zionists, if the hand of my country is extended to Israel, Israel should accept it,” Weinstein said. He praised South Africa for being “the first on several occasions to support Israel” and said that Ehrlich’s trip paved the way for greater investments by South Africans in Israel. Weinstein was also applauded. But the Sheli delegate shouted from the floor, “This is shame and disgrace for Zionism.”

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