Washington’s first Jewish ambassador to South Africa has underlined the Jewish commitment to social justice as he takes up his role in a country moving painfully toward democratic majority rule.
Princeton Lyman spoke of a historically based communal devotion to humanitarian endeavor when he addressed the annual conference of ORT South Africa here over the weekend.
It marked the first appearance before a Jewish audience by the U.S. diplomat, who worked on refugee issues with American Jewish groups during his tenure as director of the bureau of refugee programs at the State Department.
Jewish Agency Board of Governors Chairman Mendel Kaplan and other communal leaders heard Lyman praise the role of ORT in offering technical training to Ethiopia in 1977, without distinction between Jew and non-Jew.
But in an indirect reference to strains that had developed between American Jews and blacks, he said such partnerships had their pitfalls.
“Such commitment from one community to another is not without its difficulties,” he said.
“But it does not help to turn inward either. And it is not the lesson of our (Jewish) tradition.”
He said Jewish communal attitudes contributed to the good will among all sectors in society that would make the difference in helping South Africa’s struggle to dismantle apartheid and develop racial democracy. But American commitment was forthcoming, too.
U.S. President-elect Bill Clinton had already indicated a special commitment to South Africa once the political transition to democracy was irreversibly under way.
The ambassador said there were “extraordinary elements of hope” in the changes taking place in South Africa.
“There are leaders on all sides taking risks in the cause of negotiation and compromise. These are rare qualities. They arise to this degree perhaps once in a century in any country. They should be prized and supported.”
In a unusual twist, not only is the U.S. ambassador to South Africa Jewish, but his counterpart in Washington, South African Ambassador Harry Schwarz, is also Jewish.