LOS ANGELES (Jul. 7)
After a month of off-again, on-again negotiations, a Los Angeles businessman has decided not to go to Saudi Arabia because his visa identifies him as Jewish.
John Schwartz sought early last month to fly to Saudi Arabia to enter bids in an auction of U.S. war surplus materiel left behind at the end of the Persian Gulf War.
On his initial visa application, Schwartz listed his religion as Jewish, and in return was notified by the Arab auction firm that a non-Jew should be sent in his stead, as “it is difficult to get the visa for a person who is jewish (sic).”
After the Simon Wiesenthal Center lodged protests with the Pentagon and Saudia Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the Saudi Embassy issued the visa, claiming that the kingdom does not discriminate on the basis of religion.
Schwartz picked up the visa at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles and prepared his travel plans.
Part of the visa was in English and part in Arabic, and shortly before his planned departure, Schwartz asked a bilingual friend to translate the non-English part.
“It says Yahood, which is Arabic for Jew,” the friend told Schwartz, a Holocaust survivor and a U.S. combat veteran of the Korean War.
Schwartz canceled his travel plans. “I didn’t like it, and to travel to Saudi Arabia with ‘Jew’ in my passport, I was concerned for my safety,” Schwartz said in a telephone interview.
He then wrote a letter to the Saudi ambassador, saying, “This is unacceptable.”
A Saudi diplomat in Washington, contacted by the Los Angeles Times, said it is necessary to identify a visitor’s religion, because non-Moslems are barred from entering Mecca.