Jews Urged to Oppose Bush’s Move to Lift South African Sanctions

American Jewish organizations are being urged to lobby Congress to block President Bush’s decision to lift U.S. economic sanctions against South Africa.

If Congress fails to do this, Jewish groups should support action challenging Bush’s decision in the courts, said Diana Aviv, associate executive vice chair of NJCRAC, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.

But at least one major Jewish group has already backed the president’s move.

Bush announced at a news conference Wednesday that he was signing an executive order lifting the economic sanctions, imposed by congress in 1986.

South Africa had met all five conditions set by Congress, including the release of political prisoners, Bush said.

He said the moves made by the white-minority government of President F.W. de Klerk to dismantle apartheid are “irreversible.”

“Progress has been made slow and often painful, but progress has definitely been made,” Bush asserted.

But Arden Shenker, NJCRAC’S chairman, said in a statement that despite the “considerable progress that has been made,” there are still discriminatory laws, and “the black majority remains disenfranchised.”

Shenker argued that “sanctions and political pressures” are still needed, because “the ongoing effort to dismantle apartheid completely has reached a critical stage.”

ISRAEL MAY FOLLOW SUIT

The 12-member European Community decided in April to lift its sanctions, paving the way for the U.S. move.

The Israeli Cabinet, which has been taking cues from the United States on South Africa, is expected to make its decision on lifting sanctions at its regular meeting Sunday. Israel had earlier indicated that it would not lift its economic sanctions before the United States did so.

Aviv of NJCRAC told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that she was not surprised by the president’s decision to lift sanctions. She recalled that Bush and his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, “never made any secret of the fact that they thought sanctions were not effective.”

Bush has interpreted the law on sanctions in its narrowest form consistent with this view, she said.

The U.S. sanctions were imposed after Congress overrode a veto by Reagan. Bush has made it no secret that he would lift the sanctions as soon as he thought he could legally do so.

The president stressed Wednesday that he believed the efforts to dismantle apartheid were more the result of the “forward-looking” de Klerk than the impact of the sanctions.

NJCRAC, which is the American Jewish community’s policy-planning arm, is maintaining its stand against lifting sanctions after consultations with leading anti-apartheid members of Congress, including Reps. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.), William Gray (D-Pa.) and Ron Dellums (D-Calif.) and Sen Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

NJCRAC is sending out a memo to its 13 national Jewish member agencies and its 117 local Jewish community affiliates, urging that Congress be pressured to block Bush’s action.

But Aviv conceded that there appears to be little hope of mustering the two-thirds majority in Congress needed to override a presidential veto of a blocking motion.

She said the congressional supporters of continued economic sanctions are more likely to take the issue to the courts.

ADL BACKS PRESIDENT’S DECISION

While NJCRAC is taking a strong stand against the lifting of sanctions, it is not yet clear whether national Jewish agencies will enlist in the effort to stop the president’s action. Most are reassessing the issue in view of Bush’s action.

The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement Wednesday expressing support for the president’s decision. It said ADL accepts Bush’s “assessment that South Africa has met the conditions for change embodied in the 1986 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act.”

Another NJCRAC member agency, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, believes the umbrella group should not only consult with anti-apartheid forces in the United States but with South Africa’s Jewish community, too.

William Rapfogel, executive director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, said his group plans to have such discussions with South African Jewish leaders before it makes its own reassessment of the situation.

The Orthodox Union has criticized NJCRAC for not taking into consideration the views of South African Jewry. It made this point in dissenting from a statement in support of sanctions contained in NJCRAC’s 1990-1991 Joint Program Plan for Jewish Community Relations.

South African Jews, including some of the leading Jewish opponents of apartheid, have long been opposed to economic sanctions.

One of them, Harry Schwarz, a longtime opposition member of the South African Parliament, is now ambassador to the United States. He has been arguing before American Jewish groups that economic sanctions hurt the black majority more than the white minority.

‘NOT YET MADE SUBSTANTIAL PROGRESS’

But Aviv, who is a South African native herself, argued in her memo to NJCRAC member agencies that South Africa has not satisfied the five conditions mandated by Congress.

Starting with the last condition met, Aviv agreed that 10,000 political prisoners had been released since African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela was let out of prison in February 1990. But another 1,000 are still in prison, 19 of whom are on death row, she said.

Another condition was lifting the state of emergency and releasing those detained under it. While this was done last October, an earlier 1986 law, which gives the government almost identical powers “in so-called unrest areas,” remains in force, Aviv said.

Pretoria has met another U.S. condition by lifting the ban against the African National Congress and 34 other parties. But none of South Africa’s 30 million blacks can vote or run for office, Aviv pointed out.

The government also abolished the Group Areas Act, which set up racially restricted areas, and the Population Registration Act, satisfying another U.S. condition. But Aviv said a loophole allows white residential communities to bar blacks to protect existing “norms and standards.”

While the registration act was repealed so that persons will no longer be listed by race at birth, the government did not address the rights of 4 million blacks who were “forcibly removed from their land and dumped in areas designated for them,” Aviv said.

Another condition was for the government to enter into good-faith negotiations with representative members of the black majority. Aviv maintained that what has gone on so far has only been “talks about talks.”

Finally, Aviv’s memo stressed that while considerable progress has been made to remove the apartheid laws, the impact of these laws on people has not been addressed. “Many discriminatory laws and others that deny full and free participation in a democracy still remain in place,” she said.

“The South African government has not yet made substantial progress in the establishment of a non-racial democracy,” she said.

(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)

NEXT STORY