LOS ANGELES (Jun. 17)
Hastily reversing an earlier decision, the Saudi Arabian government has promised to allow an American Jewish scrap metal dealer to enter the country and participate in an auction of U.S. war surplus material in the Arab kingdom.
In a phone call Tuesday, an official of the Saudi embassy in Washington notified Los Angeles businessman John Schwartz that the previous rejection of his visa application was due to a misunderstanding.
Schwartz applied for the visa on June 2, after he read an announcement inviting foreign bidders to “Operation Desert Auction” in the Saudi port city of Dhahran. Up for bids were massive quantities of trucks, heavy equipment, tents and scrap metal left in Saudi Arabia at the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War.
At the top of the announcement were two logos, one of Marhoon Nasser Auctioneers, the other showing an American shield and eagle with the words Defense Logistics Agency.
Schwartz, a Holocaust survivor and Korean War combat veteran, faxed the requested visa information to the auctioneer, and on the line for “religion,” Schwartz wrote “Jewish.”
The very next day, auctioneer Nasser sent a fax back to Schwartz, explaining that, “Since it is difficult to get the visa for a person who is jewish (sic), we suggest you sent (sic) the particulars of some one else who is other than jewish.”
Schwartz turned with this correspondence to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who dispatched letters of protest to U.S. Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney and to Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
In the letter to Cheney, Cooper asked the Pentagon to suspend participation immediately 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 citizens from bidding on materials produced in their own country.”
On June 16, Cooper received a phone call from Adel Al-Jubeir, an aide to Prince Bandar, explaining that “Mr. Nasser was misinformed on current Saudi policy” and that “it is not the policy of Saudi Arabia to discriminate on the basis of religion.”