Nelson Mandela and Natan Sharansky have agreed in principle to meet in the United States during the African National Congress leader’s upcoming visit here, an American Jewish leader confirmed Monday.
“Both sides have indicated that they are interested in the meeting,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. “Now it’s a question of working out logistics and scheduling.”
The ADL leader said he believed “it would be appropriate for two prisoners of conscience of our generation,” to “meet to exchange their experiences and dialogue toward understanding and common ground.”
Foxman spoke upon his return from meeting will Mandela in Geneva, along with leaders of other Jewish organizations. At the meeting, Mandela apologized for statements he may have made offending Jews and expressed support for the State of Israel.
Foxman said that the plans for the meeting grew out of an exchange with Mandela at the meeting Sunday. Mandela told the delegation he was not sure if he would have time to meet with Jewish leaders while in the United States.
“I said it would be better if you met with Natan Sharansky, a friend of mine and a hero of the Jewish people,” Foxman recounted.
Mandela then said that he had read Sharansky’s autobiography “Fear No Evil,” after being given the book by Helen Suzman, a former Jewish member of the South African Parliament and anti-apartheid activist. He expressed interest in meeting with the onetime Soviet refusenik.
“Sharansky and I have shared experiences,” Foxman quoted Mandela as saying.
SOME LEADERS NOT SATISFIED
The reports from Foxman and other members of the delegation of the warm and cordial meeting with Mandela were generally greeted positively by the organized American Jewish community. The New York Jewish Community Relations Council said it would now join in welcoming Mandela.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress and the ADL all issued statements welcoming Mandela to the United States.
But there was not universal agreement in the Jewish community on that point.
The Zionist Organization of America announced Monday that it while it was “encouraged” by the reports from Geneva, it would not take part in greeting the South African leader.
Arnold Wagner, chairman of ZOA’s national executive committee, said that Zionists were not “comfortable” with Mandela’s stand that Israel should return to its 1967 borders as well as the fact that Mandela has not repudiated the United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism.
Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, president of the Poale Agudath Israel of America, condemned the Geneva meeting, calling the Jewish leaders who participated “sycophants” who “degraded” themselves by traveling to see Mandela.
“He should have come to New York and met with Jewish leaders here,” Schonfeld said.
New York City Councilman Noach Dear, State Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Bronx Rabbi Avraham Weiss have all indicated they may demonstrate against Mandela during the June 20 ticker-tape parade welcoming him here.
Dear and Weiss said that neither the Geneva meeting nor the prospect of the Sharansky meeting had yet dissuaded them. The three are seeking a meeting with New York Mayor David Dinkins to negotiate the matter.
“There is still a great possibility we will be out there” demonstrating, said Weiss.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.