LOS ANGELES (Jun. 16)
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is protesting the exclusion of an American Jew from a huge auction of U.S. Army surplus material, being held in Saudi Arabia.
The sale, being billed as the Operation Desert Auction, is offering massive quantities of trucks, heavy equipment, tents and scrap metals left in Saudi Arabia at the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War.
John Schwartz saw a local announcement of the auction, being held in various phases from May 18 to July 8, in the Saudi port city of Dhahran.
The announcement, which was posted at a military surplus depot near Los Angeles, included two logos, one of Marhoon Nasser Auctioneers, the other showing an American shield and eagle with the words Defense Logistics Agency. Interested parties were asked to contact the auctioneers for visa applications, listing their names, passport number, nationality and religion.
Schwartz, a longtime scrap metal and surplus dealer, as well as a Holocaust survivor and combat veteran of the Korean War, thought the opportunity was too good to pass up. He and his partner, Rita Lowy, faxed the required information, listing Schwartz’ religion as Jewish.
The very next day, a fax came back from Nasser, thanking Schwartz for his interest and adding, “Since it is difficult to get the visa for a person who is jewish (sic), we suggest you sent (sic) the particulars of someone else who is other than jewish.”
LETTERS SENT TO U.S. AND SAUDI GOVERNMENTS
Schwartz turned, with this correspondence, to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, who dispatched letters of protest to U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and to Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
In the letter to Cheney, Cooper asked the Pentagon to immediately suspend participation in the auction, “which is clearly in contravention of U.S. law.”
Addressing the Saudi ambassador, Cooper urged his government “to immediately revise its archaic and demeaning laws” which “in this case, actually forbid American citizen from bidding on materials produced in their own country.”
No answers have been received so far.
There are a few aspects of this incident that puzzle Schwartz. First, since according to his figures, 80 to 90 percent of American scrap metal and war surplus dealers are Jewish, the Saudi and U.S. government must have known that some Jews would want to attend the auction.
Secondly, he is surprised that the Saudi auctioneer replied immediately by fax and spelled out the reason for the refusal. “He could have sent the reply by mail or pleaded some technicality until it was too late to make the auction,” said Schwartz.
A final odd note was added by a June 8 dispatch from the Middle East News Network, reporting on the initial phase of the auction.
The news story noted that while more than 1,300 local and international bidders had registered, “the auction was dominated by Saudi Arabian buyers and not a single international bidder won a bid.”