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US Jews snub Mandela over Iran support

By Ben Fenton in Washington
The Telegraph
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.


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