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Reports of Israeli Housing Deal with South Africa Raise Concern

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The Congressional Black Caucus has told Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir that it is “alarmed by reports that Israel may begin to import prefabricated housing from South Africa.”

The 21-member African-American caucus wrote Shamir last week that any Israeli decision to withdraw from the international sanctions effort against Pretoria would be “premature, at best, and counterproductive to our mutually stated goals of ensuring that apartheid is abolished once and for all.”

An Israeli source said this week that of the nearly three dozen Israeli housing contracts going to foreign companies, four will be going to South African firms.

But in New York, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Israel has made “no commitment yet to buy from South Africa” and is “sensitive” to concerns about doing business with the apartheid regime.

The Israeli source defended the reported Israeli decision to award the contracts to South African firms, saying it comes at a time when the 12-nation European Community has decided to partially lift its sanctions against South Africa.

In addition, African National Congress leader Oliver Tambo suggested last Friday that the anti-apartheid movement should reassess the efficacy of international sanctions against Pretoria.

The reported Israeli decision to award the housing contracts follows a meeting late last month between Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, and a South African counterpart. The session was the highest-level meeting between the two countries since March 1987, when Israel adopted its sanctions policy.

Israel is seeking to build tens of thousands of new housing units to accommodate the massive number of Soviet Jews arriving in Israel, which has exceeded 150,000 this year and could reach 400,000 in 1991.

ARENS PRESSED ON THE ISSUE

The Congressional Black Caucus warned that if Israel uses for this purpose any of the $400 million in housing loans recently guaranteed by the United States, “it will be perceived by many as if U.S. assistance is being utilized to underwrite the purchase of South African goods.”

But the Israeli source said such funds would not be used for that purpose.

Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), the leading pro-Israel African- American on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed deep concern about the reports of an Israeli deal with Pretoria during an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last Friday in Jerusalem.

Payne, who was one of 19 members of the House who visited Saudi Arabia and Israel last week as part of an official congressional delegation led by Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Calif.), brought up the matter in a meeting with Israel Defense Minister Moshe Arens.

A congressional source who sat in on the meeting said Arens had no reaction to the reports. The source said Rep. Mel Levine (D-Calif.) a pro-Israel member of the Foreign Affairs Committee who was also in on the meeting, urged Arens to investigate the matter.

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