OTTAWA (Oct. 3)
The Commonwealth Jewish Council, an organization representing Jewish communities in 26 British Commonwealth countries, condemned the apartheid policy of South Africa in a statement issued at a press conference at the conclusion of its annual conference held here.
The statement, a resolution passed during the two-day conference, expressed the Council’s “abhorrence and condemnation of the practice” and congratulated the South African Jewish Board of Deputies for its recent resolution rejecting apartheid Greville Janner, Council president and a British Labor Party member of Parliament, described the South African Jewish community’s resolution as a “courageous move” in view of the circumstances.
STATEMENT BY THE COUNCIL
The Council’s statement, officially proposed by Zimbabwe delegate Muriel Rosin, a member of the former Rhodesian parliament in the 1950’s and 1960’s, also stated: “The Jewish prophetic vision, which laid the foundation of civilized relations between all peoples, impels us to condemn all forms of discrimination by race, color, creed or religion …. We pray that wisdom will prevail so that all races in South Africa will enter into negotiations leading to a peaceful solution to its problems.”
Janner added that “Commonwealth Jewish communities share a certain profound revulsion to apartheid, as we do to all forms of racial discrimination. Our Jewish people have suffered sogrieviously from racial persecution to countenance this evil in any form or against other people wherever they be.”
Forty delegates from 19 Commonwealth countries attended the conference held in the Parliament buildings. They included representatives of remote Jewish communities such as those of Malta, India, Mauritius, Zambia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, and several Caribbean Islands, as well as large communities of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. (South Africa severed ties with the Commonwealth in 1961.) This was the second international conference of the Council since its founding at the end of 1982 in London, where its headquarters are located. Its first meeting was held in Gibraltar in September, 1984.
Janner said one of the most important reasons for the existence of the Council is the access it gives Jews to political leaders. In the past year, Janner has personally met leaders “at the highest level” in almost a dozen countries, including Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Delegates at the meeting here met with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, as well as the leader of the Liberal opposition, John Turner, and Ed Broadbent, leader of the New Democrats, the third party in Parliament.
PROMINENT ROLE OF DICK GREGORY
The highlight, however,for many delegates was the presence of Dick Gregory, the Black American comedian and civil rights activist. Gregory, who met Janner at a demonstration outside the former Dachau concentration camp against President Reagan’s visit to the Bitburg cemetery, is a sponsor of the Commonwealth Jewish Trust, which funds the activities of the Council.
This is not an honorary position; Gregory made a substantial enough donation to the Trust to list his name with the Bronfmans, Rothschilds and other extremely wealthy Jewish leaders who are sponsors. At the Ottawa conference, Gregory made another substantial contribution toward projects to restore synagogues in Barbados and India.
Gregory, a Baptist, explained he became interested in the Council because of its dedication to human rights, an area in which Jews and Blacks share a common concern, he said. Gregory spoke on at least two occasions during the conference, telling delegates that the reason for much of the anti-Semitism in the world is ignorance. He urged Jews to take the time to explain to non-Jews who they are.
ISRAELI DELEGATION ALSO DENOUNCES APARTHEID
The week earlier in Ottawa, the Israeli delegation to the Interparliamentary Union conference also denounced apartheid. Labor Party Knesset member Simcha Dinitz, the former Israeli Ambassador to Washington, said in an address that, “A policy based on racial discrimination is abhorrent to us as human beings, as Jews and as Israelis. Such a policy can only lead to instability, bloodshed and suffering of innocent people. Only a government based on equality and human dignity can guarantee peace.”
He called attempts to link Israel with the apartheid policy of South Africa “not only a gross violation of the truth but a cynical attempt to cast baseless accusations against Israel by those who often trade and cooperate with South Africa and exercise oppressive regimes in their own countries.”