US Jews snub Mandela over Iran support
By Ben Fenton in Washington
May 18, 2000
NELSON MANDELA has been snubbed by a leading American Jewish organisation
because he expressed support for Iran's trial of 13 Jews on spying charges.
The 82-year-old former South African president was due to be presented
with a medallion marking his support for Israel and his long fight for
human rights at a lunch given for him by the American Jewish Committee,
an influential lobby group.
On May 1, Mr Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for his fight against
apartheid, angered Israel and Jewish groups in America when he said foreigners
should not interfere in the espionage trial being conducted in the southern
Iranian city of Shiraz.
He said then: "From all observations, it would seem that the trial
is fair and just." It was, he added, a purely domestic matter. Then
last week people invited to the Mandela lunch were sent e-mail messages
informing them that the event had been cancelled.
A spokesman for the committee would not link the two issues, saying
that he was "hoping to reschedule" the lunch, but Mr Mandela's
personal assistant said yesterday that it was the former president's understanding
that it was cancelled because of the earlier remarks.
Zelda Lagrange said: "I wouldn't say he is happy, but I wouldn't
say he was sad about it. He is certainly going to stand firm on what he
said about the trial in Iran." Mr Mandela, who returns to South Africa
after a meeting with President Clinton today, has been on a two-week visit
to Washington during which he has conducted a series of private meetings.
In October, Mr Mandela was rebuked by David Levy, the Israeli Foreign
Minister, when, on a visit to the Jewish state, he said that he had received
assurances from Iranian leaders that the trial of the 13 Jews would be
free and fair.
Mr Levy said that, among other issues, the quality of the lawyers representing
the Jews was so poor that if Mr Mandela had received such legal help at
his own trial, "it is doubtful whether . . . you would be here today".
The 13 Jews, six of whom are said by Teheran to have confessed, are
facing the death sentence after they were accused of espionage on behalf
of Israel and America. This is flatly denied by Jerusalem and Washington.