ANDREW Feinstein, born in Cape Town to Jewish parents, has a familial connection to the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of nearly 40 relatives on his mother's side. As a prominent member of the ANC, he chaired the sub-committee responsible for formulating the Public Finance Management Act (Act 1 of 1999) and led the ANC study group on public accounts. In 2001, Feinstein relinquished his ANC affiliation due to the party's refusal to initiate an unimpeded investigation into the arms deal.
Now living in London, Feinstein is the director of Shadow World Investigations (formerly Corruption Watch UK) and chairs the Friends of the Treatment Action Campaign, contributing to the discourse on South Africa and the global arms trade through lectures and writing recognised as an ANC dissident and critic, his memoir, After the Party, was a scathing critique of the political ethos within the ANC. Feinstein identifies the arms deal as the point at which the ANC lost its moral compass.
I wanted to ask him about his activism for the cause of Palestine.
PC: Andrew, I'm curious about your perspective on the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
AF: I believe the two-state solution is effectively dead. In my first book, I discussed Edward Said's advocacy for a one-state solution as the only just and democratic option. From my anti-racist perspective, this makes sense. However, I argued at the time that political realities necessitated considering a two-state solution. I doubt there's sufficient support for a two-state solution in the West or within Israel. Israeli politics has shifted so far right that at the moment it's a challenging landscape.
However, rather than debating one state or two states, the focus should be on halting the obliteration of the Palestinian people. Looking forward, the only just, equitable and non-racial solution appears to be a single democratic state where everyone has a vote. This concept isn't dissimilar to our experience in South Africa. It should be feasible for Israelis and Palestinians to coexist on that land. A two-state solution risks resembling a Bantustan.
PC: Israel will never accept a one-state solution where it is a minority. It is not a solution.
AF: Yet, the current Israel is also unlikely to accept a two-state solution. The palpable shift to the political right, fuelled by immigration from Russia and eastern Europe, is evident in illegal settlements in occupied territories. The settlers now tie their existence to Israel's control over supposed Palestinian territories. This dilemma is as intractable as a one-state solution because no Israeli political leader wanting to survive will push back against the settlement project. Politicians in Israel advocating for such change have been marginalised. The Israeli left has shrunk and even leaders of the Labor Party can't discuss pushing back on this issue.
PC: Is there no middle ground or moderate voice left in Israel?
AF: None that I'm aware of. To be honest, Piet, I'm not sure what “moderate" means in the world any more. Does it imply a willingness to compromise? I see that among a tiny section of the Israeli population and maybe not even a handful of politicians. Moderates are so marginal in Israeli political discourse that their voices aren't heard.
The most moderate voice in Palestine is President (Mahmoud) Abbas. He's alienated from huge swathes of his support because he's seen as ineffectual, corrupt and incompetent. He is a moderate voice among Palestinians but he's not a credible voice any more. That's what enabled the rise of Hamas in Gaza. But realistically speaking, no Palestinian worth their salt will support a two-state solution right now, especially not with tens of thousands of Palestinians dying.
Do you know Marwan Barghouti? Palestinians regard him as their Mandela. Where do you think he is? He is in an Israeli jail.
PC: Is he a moderate voice who can negotiate with the Israelis?
AF: Piet, I don't even know what you mean by a moderate voice.
PC: Well, somebody who doesn't say Israel must be obliterated or speak about “from the river to the sea”. Or, like you, who argues that Israel must be subject to majority rule and the whole of Palestine belongs to the Arabs and that's it. Such views emphasise the problem and by implication deny that a compromise is possible.
AF: Barghouti says the only way we are going to free is by engagement with Israel. And since 2008, he has been the leader most Palestinians identify with. So, you asked the question, is there a moderate voice in Palestine, and are Hamas’s interests distinguishable from those of the Palestinians? I don't believe Barghouti is a moderate voice, just as I don't believe Mandela was a moderate voice. But if you're looking for a voice that has legitimacy within the Palestinian community, broadly, if you're looking for a voice who could sit down and negotiate whatever that solution is, it is his. But unfortunately, that voice has been in jail for over 20 years. And then Israel says there are no legitimate Palestinian leaders to talk to. It has imprisoned Barghouti, the most credible leader in Palestine.
PC: Perhaps not a moderate voice, but a voice of reason then?
AF: Exactly. And that's why I come back to where I started, and that is if you don't pressure Israel to release someone like Barghouti, then there's no point talking about moderate voices or what some future state would look like. The reality of the here and now is that Israel has a fascist government in the very traditional meaning of the word. And they are proudly fascist. They are some of the most racist people I have seen since I was growing up in South Africa in the '70s and early '80s.
PC: So, what is the solution? You are sceptical about the one-state and two-state solutions.
AF: The South African situation is entirely different. However, there are also certain crucial similarities. There were various factors that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa, including geopolitical changes like the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had strongly supported the ANC. I'm aware that negotiations were happening before that, but I think a similar process needs to occur in Israel.
PC: Well, I'm not sure the South African scenario applies to Israel the way you think.
PC: Because there was never any doubt that South Africa belongs to all its people, and the Bantustans were a political delusion of Afrikaners who eventually painted themselves into a corner.
AF: That's a revisionist perception of history because among many white people whom I spoke to at the time, majority rule wasn't accepted, even among big businesses. They wanted a qualified franchise. You’re forgetting parts of our history.
PC: So, what is the solution for Israel?
AF: It's about how to bring Israel, which holds all the power, to the table. And you won't achieve that by following the current approach of our leaders.
PC: But all of this suggests there is no solution because there's no guarantee for Israel’s security concerns, which to me seem real. They won't accept your answer and they certainly won't support any solution that makes them a minority in what they perceive to be their own country. And you suggest nobody in Hamas, nobody in Gaza, nobody in the West Bank will settle for a two-state solution.
AF: Yes, we have a situation where in Israel we have a completely intransigent regime, and anyone who could potentially win office in Israel is equally intransigent. To get people they can negotiate with on the Palestinian side, they're going to have to be willing to start having talks. And there's nobody in that Netanyahu administration who is going to do that.
PC: Hamas has made it known it's not interested in a two-state solution and is just as intransigent. To Israel that implies genocide. So let me just ask you this. Let's accept that Netanyahu is guilty of war crimes. Do you think Hamas is also guilty of war crimes?
AF: Yeah, of course. I mean, what happened on October 7? How else would you characterise it? But there is a fundamental difference. If you are an occupied people, you have the right of resistance. So the reason many people in the world see Israel's actions and Hamas's actions differently is that one side has all the power and the other side is oppressed and kept in what is effectively an open-air concentration camp.
PC: Is it not a false equivalence fabricated to serve as justification for the human rights atrocities of October 7?
AF: Let me finish. Can I understand what happened in the context and history? Yes, I can. Do I support it in any way? No, of course I don't. But if you believe that every human life is equally sacred and has equal value, you cannot in any way justify what Israel has done in response. The only way you can justify it is to say that if one Jewish life is lost, that's worth a few thousand Palestinian lives.
PC: Why do you justify what you describe as a war crime by saying it's part of resistance? I understand the ideals of resistance politics. I understand guerrilla warfare. I understand the urge to militarily defend the ideals of the Palestinian state. But I do not understand slaughtering young people at a concert and I don't see that as part of resistance. And I honestly do not think it should be categorised as a form of resistance because of a repressive history.
AF: What was your attitude to the ANC's adoption of the armed struggle?
PC: I think it was fully justified.
AF: And the armed struggle of the Palestinians?
PC: Of course it is justified, but not the slaughtering of young people, children, at a concert. Even the ANC would have condemned that during the struggle against apartheid. To some extent, the ANC occupied the moral high ground precisely because, with some exceptions, it never resorted to that type of grotesque violence.
AF: I agree with you, but what did Robert McBride do?
PC: That is one of the exceptions I am referring to. McBride’s actions did not reflect the DNA of the struggle against apartheid. What is happening in Israel and in Gaza is that they start murdering and maiming each other’s children; both sides resort to that level of banality. They actively target each other’s children. There are so many young people and children in jails in Israel, so many young Palestinians got killed in the West Bank and the occupied territories. And then October 7, all in the name of God.
AF: OK, so let me tell you what I think about that. Do I think it was — and this doesn't mean I accept it — but do I think it was unprovoked? Of course I don't. There have been 70 years of the most appalling oppression. There have been 36 years in which Gaza has effectively been under the most extreme situation, and people are going to do things as a consequence of that. Do I find them appalling and unacceptable? Of course, and there are lots of things the ANC did that I found equally appalling and unacceptable, but I understood them. I had to stand by while someone was necklaced in Crossroads. When I tried to intervene, the people necklacing him said to me, “Do you want to be next?" Every single human life is sacred and has equal value. Would I like the situation in Israel and Palestine to be resolved peacefully? Of course I would.
PC: So, and I ask this rhetorically, who do you blame for the situation in Israel and Palestine?
AF: I blame the occupier. I blame the oppressor, just as I blamed the white South African government.
PC: Should we distinguish between the interests of Hamas and those of the Palestinians?
AF: The fact is that the Palestinians are waging various types of ongoing struggles against the Israelis. There are Palestinians who support the Palestinian Authority, Palestinians who support Hamas, Palestinians who support neither.
PC: How do you expect the Palestinians, who are completely disempowered, to express a collective opinion on what they want?
AF: I have actually been part of delegations to the Palestinian territories where we've spoken about the South African experience with that very thing in mind. We were there with South African church leaders, with human rights activists, with all sorts of extraordinary people. Similar to South Africa, we identified the importance of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). We encouraged BDS as the most effective peaceful tool to bring about change. Piet, you might think it's disingenuous, but you need to understand when I got involved with the ANC as a white South African who lived a life of privilege, it wasn't for me to tell the ANC what its strategy should be.
PC: Yes, I think it is disingenuous, it is a human rights issue, it is the whole world’s problem not only the Palestinians' problem.
AF: It was for me to learn, and once I learnt I could make inputs into that strategy. Now I'm being told that I should go and tell a country where I bizarrely have the right of return because of my ethnicity and religion what the best solution is.
PC: One of the questions that often arises is why Jews seem to be a target of this type of worldwide condemnation, with 800,000 people turning up in the streets in London, while for Darfur, nobody turns up and nobody turns up for Syria.
AF: You're falling into a trap. It's not Jews; it's the state of Israel. To think Israel somehow represents all Jews or that all Jews have some sort of allegiance to the state of Israel is simply wrong. How do you explain the fact that there are Jews in Israel marching against what’s happening in Gaza? So yes, the majority of Jewish people are supportive of Israel, but not all Jewish people.
PC: Well, the difference in the world’s reactions to Darfur and Palestine sounds like selective outrage to some, and I am also sceptical.
Let me ask you something else; I wondered about it because you use the South African analogy so often. In 2008, a Harvard study suggested Thabo Mbeki’s HIV/Aids policies led to the deaths of a minimum of 340,000 mostly poor South Africans. Do you think Mbeki should be held accountable? What is the difference between Benjamin Netanyahu, Thabo Mbeki and Ismail Haniyeh (the Hamas leader)?
AF: Of course he should be held accountable, and that's a problem of our democracy. We've had a problem with our democracy since the arms deal. We have no accountability in our democracy because our electoral model does not allow parliament and other entities of accountability to play their proper role. Mbeki should be held accountable.
♦ VWB ♦
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