Israeli Ambassador Rips Apartheid

By Dave Kopel

Denver Weekly News. Jan. 19, 1989. More by Kopel on Israel

Apartheid is "categorically wrong," Israel's U.N. Ambassador told an audience of Colorado Black and Jewish leaders last Thursday. Ambassador David Matnai announced that Israel had implemented a variety of measures to pressure South Africa's government, including a ban on the sale of South African gold, prohibition of official visits between South Africa and Israel, and an embargo on the trans-shipment of South African goods through Israel to other nations. The Ambassador stated that these sanctions and others were at the same level as measures taken by the European Common Market.

The Ambassador spoke at a briefing sponsored by the Colorado Caucus of Black Elected Officials, the America-Israel Friendship League, the Denver University School of International Studies, and the Center for Judaic Studies. One of two Israelis with the rank of Ambassador at the United Nations, David Matnai was formerly Israel's Ambassador to Japan, and then to Sri Lanka.

In a brief speech, the Ambassador traced many of the Middle East's tensions to the conflicting development of Jewish and Arab nationalism. He explained that Zionism, first developed by European Jews in the late 19th century, always included a respect for minority rights.

In contrast, Arab nationalism, which began to develop at about the same time, has always been hostile to non-Arab or non-Muslim minorities -- such as the Kurds in Iraq, the Druze in Syria, or the Blacks in the southern Sudan. Matnai argued that Egypt was the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel because Egypt itself has only a small ethnic minority population. Since Egypt's non-Arab minority was so small, Egypt was more willing to recognize minority rights of all kinds, including the right of a Jewish state in an Arab region.

Ambassador Matnai stated that Arab nationalism was still in its "childhood." He predicted that Arab nationalism would eventually mature and grow more tolerant and democratic, as it already has in Turkey.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. day, the Ambassador presented a film detailing Israel's commemorations of Dr. King, whom the film called a "20th century prophet." The film presented Dr. King's daughter reading the "I Have a Dream" speech at Israel's U.S. embassy, and scenery of the "Martin Luther King Memorial Forest" in Israel, where the Jewish National Fund has planted over 10,000 trees in Dr. King's honor.

At a ceremony naming a Jerusalem street in Dr. King's honor, Israeli Premier Shamir noted that Dr. King urged the U.S. to support Israel when it was threatened with destruction in 1967. Dr. King also supported Jews in the Soviet Union "with passion and conviction," Shamir said, because Dr. King understood that a threat to freedom anywhere endangered freedom everywhere. The film noted that Dr. King felt a strong identification with Moses, as the leader of an oppressed people, and therefore reached out to Jews in kinship.

Among the Colorado Black leaders at the briefing were Rep. Wilma Webb; Rep. Gloria Tanner; Rep. Sam Williams; Sen. Regis Groff; Councilman Bill Roberts; NAACP President Menola Upshaw; Gwen Thomas, of the Black Roundtable; the Reverend Ezekial Habersham; and the Reverend Acen Phillips.

Jewish leaders included Attorney General Duane Woodard; AFL-CIO director Steve Bieringer; Rep. Jerry Kopel; Joyce Oberfeld, director of the America-Israel Friendship League; Warren Toltz, a businessman; Jeff Feldman, also a businessman; Sheldon Steinhauser, director of the Allied Jewish Fund; and DU Professor Jonathan Edelman.

The America-Israel Friendship League, a non-profit organization open to all faiths and ethnic backgrounds, promotes mutual understanding between the U.S. and Israel.  State Senator Regis Groff directs the Colorado A.I.F.L.'s student exchange program, which sends Denver high school students to Israel for a month, and brings Israeli students to America.

Denver City Auditor Wellington Webb, a member of the board of directors of the A.I.F.L., hosted the briefing with Ambassador Matnai. Mr. Webb concluded that Blacks and Jews share a common history of oppression, and that there is "more that joins us than that separates us."

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