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Prospect of Reform in South Africa Giving Hope to Its Jewish Community

February 5, 1990
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New hope for political reform in South Africa is giving the Jews in that country a more upbeat vision of their future, according to B’nai B’rith International President Seymour Reich, who returned from a visit there last week.

Reich, who is also chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, met with a number of South African officials during his visit, including President F.W. de Klerk, who announced a series of sweeping reforms in a landmark address Friday.

In that address, de Klerk said that black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela would soon be released from prison and that 36 banned opposition groups, including Mandela’s African National Congress, could now operate legally.

During his visits to the Jewish communities of Pretoria, Cape Town and Johannesburg, Reich said he did not sense the atmosphere of “foreboding” he felt on previous trips.

In recent years, scores of South African Jews, anticipating unending racial strife and instability’ in their country, have emigrated, settling in Israel, the United States or Australia.

Now, with the prospect of peaceful political reform and the possible end of sanctions that have led foreign firms to leave South Africa, Jews are beginning to believe that there may be a future for them in South Africa, Reich said.

Jewish parents are beginning to talk of keeping their children in the country instead of sending them abroad.

ISRAEL MAY END ARMS CONTRACTS

Reich said he was encouraged after his meeting with de Klerk.

“President de Klerk assured me that the process of political evolution, while not subject to any timetable, is under way and irreversible,” the B’nai B’rith leader said. “He is committed to negotiations leading to power-sharing.”

But dc Klerk warned Reich that “political change will not be meaningful without the foreign capital so necessary” for economic growth –meaning that trade sanctions should be lifted.

Leaders of the Mass Democratic Movement, the political arm of the African National Congress, gave Reich the opposite message, telling him that economic sanctions imposed abroad have been effective in pressuring the white South African government to make political reforms.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has said it will soon announce a timetable for terminating all military contracts with South Africa, the Washington Jewish Week reported.

Ron Brown, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told the weekly newspaper that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir gave him that assurance during his recent visit to Israel.

The paper also reported that Vice Premier Shimon Peres told the DNC chairman that under the timetable, all military contracts would end within 24 months.

Israel has been under intense pressure from its congressional supporters to terminate its existing military contracts with South Africa.

That pressure reached its height last October, when NBC News aired reports that Israel and South Africa were cooperating in the development of nuclear weapons.

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