An Apartheid South Africa moment for Israel?

Over the past six months, millions of people worldwide have taken to the streets to demonstrate in solidarity with Palestine and to demand that their governments call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Many governments have responded and even the US abstained – rather than vetoed – a UN Security Council resolution in March calling for a temporary ceasefire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Spain, Ireland, Slovenia and Malta have also committed to recognizing a Palestinian state, joining eight other EU member states, including Poland and Sweden who have already done so, even though the EU as a whole has yet to take this step.

Nevertheless, Israel has continued its genocide in Gaza, seemingly unconcerned. And crucially, Israel’s most important allies, the US and the UK, have remained largely unmoved and continue to support Israel diplomatically and militarily, with little to no regard for popular feeling.

This prompts the question of whether we have reached the limits of what Palestine activism can achieve or whether the current popular momentum can turn into an Apartheid South Africa moment, a moment of global solidarity that led inexorably to the collapse of South Africa’s racist regime.

To discuss this, and more about the parallels and differences between Palestine activism and the anti-Apartheid movement, The Electronic Intifada talked to two veteran activists.

Things can change fast

Ghada Karmi has authored several books on Palestine, including her latest, One State: The Only Democratic Future for Palestine-Israel, as well as a memoir, In Search of Fatima that detailed her family’s flight from Jerusalem during the 1947-49 Nakba.

Andrew Feinstein was a long-time anti-apartheid activist who became a parliamentarian for Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress party after the country’s first free elections in 1994.

The son of a Holocaust survivor, an experience that informed both his and his mother’s opinions on apartheid and Palestine, he is the author of a book about the ANC, After the Party, as well as an investigation into the global arms trade, The Shadow World.

“The imperative is to stop the genocide and to stop the ethnic cleansing,” Karmi said.

And while resolution might seem far away, ultimately, she said, “the only realistic, practical, just and humane endpoint to this is the creation of a proper democratic state, in which both these peoples become equal citizens.”

Feinstein pointed out that situations can change faster than expected.

“In 1986, when I had to leave South Africa, if someone had told me apartheid would be over four years later, I would have used my training as a clinical psychologist and offered them a straitjacket.”

Watch the video above or listen via SoundCloud below.

Filmed and directed by Asa Winstanley. Produced by Tamara Nassar.

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Full transcript

Lightly edited for clarity.

OK: Hello, and welcome to The Electronic Intifada Podcast. We have a special edition today. We’re all in the same room for a change. I am Omar Karmi, EI associate editor. And with me today are Ghada Karmi and Andrew Feinstein.

Ghada is a veteran Palestine activist and author of several books including her most recent: One State: The Only Democratic Future for Palestine-Israel, and a memoir: In Search of Fatima.

She was born in Jerusalem, from where she was forced to flee as a young child with her parents and her siblings, including my father, during the Nakba of 1947-49.

Andrew Feinstein is from South Africa where he was an early anti-Apartheid activist. He became a member of parliament in the country’s first free elections in 1994 for Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

Andrew is the son of Holocaust survivors and has long been a Palestine activist. Now based in London, he is executive director of Shadow World Investigations. He is author of a book on the ANC, After the Party, as well as a book on the global arms trade, The Shadow World.

Thank you both for being here.

Ghada, let me start with you. Despite unprecedented global solidarity with Palestine, obviously at the moment, we are in the sixth month of a unfolding genocide in Gaza and facing the very real possibility of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians yet again from the land. Are we witnessing limits of activism? And what can be done now to stop this?

GK: Look, I mean, the best thing I can say is that it’s very difficult to make a judgment on what will happen. It really is. In this sense, and in many other senses, the current situation is unprecedented.

You know how in was in the past, you used to be able to make some sketchy future scenario based on a quite reasonable examination of the facts, of precedent, things like that. We are in a very different world. Since October 7, among the many things that have happened has been this: the inability to be able to see what the next step is.

So, you know, it’s very much in my mind when I try to answer your question, because part of me would like to say that, no, Israel will not be able to get away with the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. No, Israel cannot continue along this path. Wiser counsel will prevail. And this kind of thing.

I can’t say that, I don’t know, is the answer. It is on the cards. I won’t put it in more strongly than that. But it is on the cards, that Israel may succeed in expelling a large number of Palestinians out of Palestine, as it is succeeding currently in killing so many civilians, something which nobody ever anticipated.

So, you know, if you think about it, what with the shooting, bombing, and direct hitting of Palestinians, add to it the effects of starvation, of disease, lack of medical facilities, who knows where this will lead?

Now, having said that, what we cannot afford to do is to stop being activists for Palestine. That is not on the cards, at all. We have to continue even with this blind, what I’m calling a blindness to the future. Even being lost as to where we are, where it’s all going next. We cannot rest for a moment.

This is the only possible way forward for ordinary people.

OK: But we have I mean, I’ve never seen so many people in so many places take to the streets for Palestine. Is there also – the flip side of that – is there also a bit of a South Africa moment happening.

AF: I think in many ways there is.

What has been remarkable is first of all, as you said, the unprecedented numbers. But on a sustained basis. We’ve seen huge marches before, of course. Just before the invasion of Iraq, there was a massive march in London and all over the world. But to sustain it, as it has been done for six months now, where literally every weekend around the world, there are huge national marches or myriad local marches.

And I think what that reflects is that the political class, supposedly our political leaders… I can’t remember since the late Apartheid period, when the political class felt so out of touch with the vast majority of citizens and residents in their areas,

And you know, in the United Kingdom, we’re seeing a situation where consistently over 70 percent of people in all polls wanted to see a ceasefire months and months ago, and not one of our major politicians has the courage to actually call for an unqualified ceasefire, permanent ceasefire.

Also, I do think that these marches do exert pressure. The fact that the United States of America fairly recently abstained on a ceasefire motion rather than vetoed it, of course, it has used its veto constantly to defend Israel. And the fact that they have abstained, excuse me, speaks to the reality that Joe Biden is facing significant electoral difficulties, which are in large part down to his completely indefensible position on supporting Israel uncritically and arming Israel.

And where the similarity with the sort of late Apartheid period in South Africa comes is we saw this sort of growth in momentum of the global anti apartheid movement and people coming out onto the streets, of the BDS movement, at the same time as on the ground in South Africa, there was a campaign of ungovernability involving industrial strikes, involving making the apartheid defined black areas of the country ungovernable. The military, and the police could not enter them.

And it was the combination of those two factors, but crucially, the impact that BDS and the ungovernability had on the South African economy, and particularly on the quality of life of white South Africans, which deteriorated.

And that was the point at which the far right wing leaders of the apartheid state – and FW De Clerk, who won a Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela, was on the far right of his already fascist party – but he realized the game was up, he was smart enough to know that the game was up because economically, a party’s it become unsustainable,

OK: It doesn’t seem like Netanyahu is in the same position?

GK: No, no. And you know, I just wanted to say this to you, Andrew.

Of course, there are many parallels between the Palestine situation and the situation of apartheid – what was previously apartheid South Africa.

But the comparison is not exact. Oh, absolutely. And I tell you in this particular sense, there is an additional factor, which makes it, which makes the struggle of Palestinians extremely difficult, something which the South African struggle did not, in fact, face.

I’ll tell you what I mean. The Afrikaners in South Africa, were indeed important economically, in terms of outlook, etc. with western leaders, we know that. But that’s as far as it went. And when there came a time when the anti-Apartheid movement was very strong – as you say, there were civil riots, civil disobedience in South Africa itself – there came a point at which western leaders thought, is this worth it?

Our problem with Israel is, we don’t have Afrikaners in Israel. What we have is a people, a state composed of people, which have, I don’t know how to put it, extensions in the western world. So what the Palestinians are fighting isn’t just some beastly local despot, they are fighting something which has huge reach into the centers of power in the West.

And which are not just economic, which are not just about… they are much more psychological, almost spiritual, extraordinary. The hold that Israel and the idea of Israel has got on western leaders and not just western leaders, much of the populations.

So in other words, the nature of the foe, in the two examples, is different. And the difference is very important. So that’s why you’re seeing the unbelievable cruelty that Israel is inflicting on the Palestinians, and the lack of response, appropriate response, on the part of any political leader in the West.

AF: I think the two things I’d add to that. The first is whenever you consider the parallels, there is the very important and quite fundamental, domestic economic question, which in the case of South Africa, the apartheid state was entirely dependent on what was effectively indentured black labor to run the economy.

So we didn’t see, and we would not have seen, massacres and the brutal slaughter of so many in Apartheid South Africa that we’ve seen in Palestine. It’s one of the reasons why Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke very explicitly about the fact that Israeli apartheid as he described it, was far more brutal, and in many ways, far worse than South African apartheid, because there was this economic dependence on a very cheap indentured black labor force.

But then when it comes to the western leadership thing, I would take that one step further. And it is, it’s a very complex sort of combination of factors. We shouldn’t forget that western leaders were very complicit with the Apartheid South African state. But they were forced to effectively hide and obfuscate that complicity.

Whereas western leaders take enormous pride, and believe it’s to their political advantage, to side uncritically with Israel. And that is a fundamental difference. And of course, unless we understand that difference, it’s impossible to think strategically about what all of us as campaigners, as activists, in some cases, as Palestinians, can actually do at a global level to ensure first of all, the cessation of what is happening at the moment, and then obviously, the broader question of liberation.

OK: I mean, in this context, there’s also the whole narrative around anti-Semitism. I mean, you are, or your mother lost 39 members of her family in Nazi concentration camps, and the Holocaust informed her political views and yours, too. Not just on apartheid, but on Palestine. I mean, how does this narrative all play into to all of this?

AF: it’s very interesting, and at some level, it’s confused, as personal and family histories and politics always are.

So my mother was Austrian. She survived the Holocaust in Vienna itself, and not many Jews did. And the reason she survived is her mother was Jewish and her father was Catholic. He was conscripted into the Reich military after the Anschluss in 1938. But fortunately for them, he was a quartermaster.

They hid in a cellar, my mom and grandmother hid in a coal cellar for three and a half years. And in a sort of a working class district of Vienna, where they lived. And when they were raids in the area, my mum would be rolled up in a carpet and the carpet put up against the wall and cold packed around it, in case the soldiers managed to shoot their way through the door into the cellar, which, fortunately, they never managed to do.

And there are literally still the bullets, they’re not bullet holes because they couldn’t penetrate the steel door.

And so my mom after the war came to London, where she met my father who was South African. And they went back to South Africa together. And my dad, ironically, had been sent to London because he had got involved with a non-Jewish woman in South Africa. And his mother, who was orthodox was outraged by this, so she had to send him away.

The logic of it wasn’t profound. But then when he turned up with my mother, I’m not sure whether my grandmother was more appalled by the fact that yes, this was a Jewish woman, but she was a working class Jewish woman, which offended her almost as much.

And, you know, very interesting, and my mom spoke about the fact that when she arrived in South Africa, she saw the treatment of black South Africans, as not that different to the way European Jews had been treated. And for her, never again, obviously meant, never again, for all humanity.

You know, at no point would it have entered her mind that never again, applied only to Jews, because, of course, even the victims of the Nazism, of which there were over 12 million, half of whom were not Jewish. It was simply people who the Nazis decided were inferior in various ways.

So that was obviously incredibly important to me growing up in a racist apartheid state. And I was very lucky. So my mother would take me to townships illegally from a very young age. She was a puppeteer and she worked at a theater, an illegal theater called The People’s Space, which was non-racial, which is why it was illegal.

And so you know, during my school holidays from primary school, I’d have to go into work with her. But rather than sitting in an office I was in this theater where, you know, for instance, there was the then young pianist known as Dollar Brand. He became Abdullah Ibrahim, one of South Africa’s most famous jazz musicians ever. And he was from a local community. And he obviously didn’t have access to a piano. So he would come and practice in the theater.

You know, one of our most extraordinary Apartheid era playwrights by the name of Athol Fugard and his main collaborators, John Carney and Winston Shona, who did very, very political plays that were constantly being banned. And these were people, you know, I just, I grew up around them.

So I grew up in a very distinct environment that not many white South Africans did. But then as I became more politically conscionticed, as I got a bit older – and this is difficult for people to understand – but, you know, obviously, the struggle against apartheid was at the forefront of our minds politically. But we always saw the Palestinian struggle, from the earliest times that I can remember being politically conscious, we always saw the Palestinian struggle as a fraternal struggle to the apartheid liberation struggle.

And I think there are a number of reasons for that. While we shouldn’t ignore the quite fundamental differences, but there are certain important analytical similarities, the settler-colonial nature of both situations, I think is very important; the nature of a hyper militarized, racist state, and the consequences of that on daily life, very, very similar.

And so the ANC, which as soon as I went into townships in my teens, it was clear to me that the ANC and its leadership, who are either imprisoned or in exile, because of course, it was a banned, illegal legal organization had been in alliance with the PLO, for many, many years. So when we were elected after ‘94, one of the first foreign leaders to address our parliament was Yasser Arafatt.

And so, for me, it’s because I’m Jewish, because I’m the son of a Holocaust survivor, because of what my mother took from that appalling experience, that I’ve worked in the area that I’ve worked, that I’ve been an anti racist my whole life, that I got involved in the anti apartheid struggle so early.

And for me, the real tragedy of it is, you know, I’ve lectured at Auschwitz, where those members of my mom’s family were murdered on genocide prevention. I’ve written for the Auschwitz Institute. And to now see that appalling tragedy, that horrific suffering of millions of human beings being used to justify a genocide that we can now see before our eyes on our screens in real time. I mean, it’s something I never imagined I would experience in my life.

And so it feels appalling, indefensible and incomprehensible at so many levels to me.

OK: I mean, anti-Semitism has effectively been weaponized in this context?

AF: Well, yeah, the irony of that. Is that within the Labour Party under Keir Starmer… I should also mention besides lecturing in Auschwitz, I also, when I came to parliament as a very young MP, I went into the library to find out what had been said about the Holocaust in the South African parliament. And I discovered that it had never been mentioned in the history of the South African parliament.

Now, when you actually think about it, that’s actually not very surprising. Because the people who implemented the system of apartheid, who ruled South Africa post-the Second World War, were committed Nazis, who had been interned in camps, jail camps, during the war because they were involved in Nazi-supporting militias, etc.

But I introduced the first ever motion on the Holocaust and its significance in the context of global anti-racism in the entire history of the South African parliament. Then I come to the United Kingdom, and Keir Starmer’s Labour Party accuses me of making it difficult for the party to campaign on issues of racism and anti-Semitism. And I think to myself, the world is just completely upside down.

OK: I mean, I was going to say, it’s only 10 years ago that a Labour-led motion in parliament calling for the recognition, British recognition, of a Palestinian state which had cross party support, and signaled at least support for a part of the Palestinian cause. But in 10 years, we are now at a point where pro-Palestine demonstrations are threatened with being criminalized, the chant ‘from river to sea’ is seen as anti-Semitic or is portrayed as anti semitic…

AF: …unless it’s Netanyahu who is using it.

OK: Of course, yes, at the UN. And we seem to have gone backwards. What’s happened in this decade?

GK: Yeah. You know, of course, Andrew speaking as eloquently as he did about his own origins, his childhood, and the effect of the Holocaust on his life really draws attention to something which is really important for us Palestinians to never forget. It’s not getting away from the answer to your question, it’s actually key to the answer.

Which is that, you know, listening to Andrew, describe your mother’s difficulties, and being Austrian, and all the kinds of terrible things that happened to her, made me think you know, you and I would probably never have met, but for what has happened in Palestine and the setting up of the State of Israel.

Because what your story illustrates, which is something that I’ve always thought and never, never ceases to enrage me, is the way that European history, a slice of European history, of what a bunch of Europeans did to another bunch of Europeans in the 1930s, ‘40s somehow became, our problem in Palestine.

And one must never forget that. Because what this has done is that, almost a primacy of narrative, has gone to the Jewish story of the Holocaust, of the sufferings of the Jews. That has become the primary narrative, and the people who were victimized and whose country was used as recompense for these sufferings in Europe, my country, Palestine, has somehow got a back seat in all this.

Now, it’s that, it’s that utterly unjust imposition on us of, and I repeat a European history, which has nothing to do with the Middle East, nothing to do with the Palestinians.

But the way this narrative has been forced on us, has consequences. Because you can’t, you can’t grow up, over on this side of the world with this idea of the primacy of Jewish suffering, for which you must always be either penitent or sensitive or whatever. And the fact that these Palestinians, who are sort of a foreign people, someone sitting in the Middle East, are all making a fuss, apparently, they want something, they want some recognition.

I think it’s difficult for people having, it having been set up like that – there’s a setup, which says that the Holocaust story, Jewish suffering, Nazism, the terrors of Hitler, all this stuff, is at the forefront of people’s minds. Only after that, you can start to kind of vaguely try to notice something called Palestinians.

It doesn’t surprise me that there’s been so little movement on recognizing a Palestinian state in a western parliament. Because this is the effect of making, putting this – perfectly valid, by the way – Jewish story of a persecution and suffering, putting it to the forefront of people’s minds, and everything else is secondary.

And most specifically, the victims who were made to pay for crimes they did not commit and which is deeply embarrassing. So the less you hear about them, the better, you know. So it’s a very convoluted answer to your question, but I think it’s extremely important.

OK: But there did seem to be, you know, very, very slow, very incremental progress and, you know, Palestinians were more and more successful at telling their stories and, and it gained some mainstream recognition. And it seemed to me that 2014 marked, at least in the UK, sort of a peak. But then it went down and went down so rapidly over the last 10 years.

GK: Let me, let me just make a comment about that.

Of course, by the way, in having said what I said, does not mean that Palestinians were kind of passive, suffering creatures that never did a thing. No. In fact, Andrew reminded us of this really striking fact about Yasser Arafat, that slice of history, in which he came to South Africa, he was close to Nelson Mandela,.

Arafat, whatever else people might have talked about, say about him, was extremely wise about the associations he made. The fact that he put Palestine into the forefront of the Non-Aligned Movement is very important. So it’s all of that, and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he led, and which Palestinians set up without anybody’s help. It’s all those things that, of course, changed the atmosphere and made some people in the West sympathetic, and want to actually help and hence led to some of these achievements.

But in fact, those Palestinian actions were provoked into being where that would never have been natural for a very agrarian population. You must never forget that. Palestinians were from an agrarian population of farmers and peasants, that’s really what they were, catapulted into, you know, the complexities of the 20th century, having to pick themselves up off the soil and get going. It’s absolutely remarkable.

AF: It really is.

Just coming back to the first point you made, which I think is such a crucial one. And, you know, I feel this coming from one of Britain’s colonies, how it often feels as though you are a sort of a plaything of the Global North, that you’re not taken seriously, in your own right, you were seen through the perspective of the Europeans who turned up in our country, in South Africa. And of course, claiming in 1652, when they did, that there was no one there.

But then they fought all these wars. And I always found this… you know, under apartheid in South Africa, we would learn a very narrow and jaundiced perspective of history. And it was, of course, the apartheid history. And we were told both these things: They turned up and there was no one there. And then there were all these heroic wars that they fought and won.

And I remember saying to my history teacher, if there was no one there, who were they fighting the wars again? And why was it necessary to fight the wars? I never received a substantive answer, you wouldn’t be surprised.

But you know, it reminds me when, when you hear some Zionists talk about what is today the State of Israel, as a “land with no people, for people with no land,” and you think to yourself, how can people having come out of what they have, Instantaneously lose any sense of context, history or reality.

And I think this is another part of the tragedy. It’s not just – and I take your point entirely, that it’s European suffering that has been imposed on a people who had absolutely nothing to do with it, probably weren’t even aware of it to a large extent because of the way in which you describe the people of Palestine in that period – and you would think that of people who have suffered to the extent that European Jewry did, that foremost in their mind would be the view of some survivors, a tiny minority, who say because of our suffering, it is our responsibility to call out similar suffering of other people wherever we see it.

But in fact, we’ve done exactly the opposite. And I was just going to finish that by saying that, you know, it comes back to, why was it South Africa that made a submission to the International Court of Justice. It’s because of that long history of the relationship between the Palestinian struggle and the Apartheid South African struggle, first of all.

But second of all, it’s also because we feel a responsibility to speak out when we see a people suffering in the way that we ourselves, the South Africans suffered, and of course, I have to say this with the caveat that I, because of the color of my skin, experienced South Africa from a position of privilege. So I sometimes feel somewhat awkward talking in this way, but I’m talking about the perspective of the majority of South Africans.

That we feel that where we see similar suffering, that is as incomprehensible to us, but has similar roots in the arrogance and brutality of European settler-colonialism, we feel a responsibility to speak out.

And it was brilliantly put by Mandela quite soon after he was released. Before he was president of the country, he made a trip to the US. And of course, he was asked by various news people who said things to him like: Why do you have a relationship with the PLO? Why do you have a relationship with Cuba? And he said: You need to understand, your enemies are not our enemies.

And I think that’s incredibly important to understand. That, the reason for these close ties between South Africa and Palestine is also because of the nature of what we’ve suffered and how we’ve suffered.

OK: But also, of course, South Africa didn’t look at Palestine through European lenses as Mandela put it there. I mean, I’ve interviewed people who have, who had fought in, you know, pre-state, Zionist militias, and would tell me: you know, you’ve got to understand we didn’t think of them as Palestinians. We just thought of them as Arabs. Which strikes me as exactly that European lens as in, I mean, a) so what? but b) it’s just this, this sort of idea that there’s an indistinguishable mass of people here.

GK: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s what you’re seeing now. This is what 7 October also unmasked, exactly this attitude, that these are non-people in a sense, and therefore things that are being done to them don’t feel the same as things being done to “real people.”

AF: But let’s be absolutely clear and explicit about that. This is exactly the same racist white supremacy that is informing the western reaction to the genocide in Palestine today, that informed the Apartheid South African project. These are non-people.

Because that’s the only way you can do the things that the apartheid state did, that the Israeli state is doing. It is the only way. Because if you looked at it from the perspective of a functioning human being, there is absolutely no way to defend this.

And so we defend it through the dehumanization. But what that in turn does, and I know this shouldn’t be our major concern, but to come back to the question that you asked, initially, that dehumanization of the other, does something else in the process: it totally dehumanizes the oppressor as well.

And I saw it in South Africa where people thought they were decent, civilized people. Of course, now you can’t find a white person who ever supported apartheid in South Africa, and who the millions were who kept voting the National Party back into power, we will never know. They must have all been holograms.

But the reality is those people, the vast majority of ordinary people, became monsters. And the reason I make that point is because the vast majority of our political leaders, of our establishment or commercial media, those people, the ruling elites, who are justifying what is happening in Palestine have turned into monsters.

OK: This brings me back to the question I did want to ask before, about the 10 years from 2014 until now, particularly in the Labour Party. I mean, there has been this enormous sea change in the Labour Party. And obviously, a lot of it has to do with the anti-Semitism issue, which was made an issue within the Labour Party during the Corbyn years. But it’s been a remarkable reversal of policy.

GK: But you say that, but you know, please don’t forget that the Labour Party historically supported the Zionists. So, the fact that there were more progressive people on the left, who are also members of the Labour Party, who ameliorated that, it doesn’t change the basic fact that Labour historically almost identified with the Zionists in the belief, mistaken belief that these were fellow socialists. So it doesn’t particularly surprise me.

OK: But that is still going back a bit. I mean, you know, the… the image of Israel as somehow being a plucky little, you know, communal state with socialist ethos, it went a long time ago.

GK: Yes, but you see, you know, we need, of course, to always remember that the Zionist propaganda machine is extremely active. It’s very powerful, and it’s very effective, and it never sleeps.

So your question about anti-Semitism, and then the idea, as you as you just said, just now, the image of Israel, which was very carefully cultivated as a poor little fledgling state trying to find its way and all these monstrous Arabs are threatening it, is all fabricated by the Zionists.

So the latest – and it’s fascinating, we don’t have the time in this time on this program, to talk about the unfolding evolution of propaganda on behalf of the Zionists, which they created and which they know how to disseminate, which is really very interesting.

But its latest manifestation is, of course, anti-Semitism. This is fabricated by them. It’s created by them, in order to, of course, we know, to delegitimize anybody who criticizes the State of Israel. And that’s what you’re seeing. So in a way, it’s important never to lose sight of that.

I know that sometimes one is tempted to forget about it, and sort of scratch one’s head and think, “oh my God, you know, how much, what what else do I have to do to stop being criticized.” Don’t forget the power of this counter force, which is brought to bear the moment there’s any swing towards the other side towards the Palestinians, and you can see it now, very powerfully in action, everywhere.

AF: I think there are a couple of other things that I would add to that.

You know, first of all, on the Labour Party, I mean, the Labour Party’s history on foreign policy generally has been dismal. Generally, throughout its history. And there have been moments of exceptionalism. But the overall arc of Labour Party history on British foreign policy hasn’t been that great, first of all.

Second of all, we must remember what Margaret Thatcher, towards the end of her life, described as a greatest achievement: Tony Blair. And what she meant by that was: she had turned the Labour Party into a neoliberal warmongering party, so that the establishment in the United Kingdom was completely comfortable if the Labour Party won power.

Because to continue this chimera of democracy, we have to have occasional changes of the ruling party.

And we’re seeing that again now, where the establishment feels quite comfortable with Keir Starmer because he is the creation of the establishment, and they know he will threaten nothing.

And it’s why Jeremy Corbyn could not become prime minister of Britain. His attitude, his internationalist attitude generally, but specifically his attitude towards Israel and towards the role of Britain in the world and Britain’s arms trade – which is a source of massive corruption and huge human suffering all over the world – that was simply untenable to the establishment.

Which is why the 2017 election, where he came close to being elected, was such a shock.

And they tried everything against him, you know, Russian spy, Czech spy, this, that and the other. And eventually, the one that worked is anti-Semitism, because an enormous number of people in polite British society find it very difficult to stand up against claims of anti-Semitism.

Even when those claims are weaponized, like, we’ve seen them weaponized as part of what is, or what would have been in a more sane political moment in our history, a tool of a movement of the far right wing.

You know, today, they’re probably the right wing, but in my time, they would have been the far right wing.

And the reality is, we mustn’t be ashamed to call that out. You know, when people call me an anti-Semite, I explain to them what anti-Semitism actually is rather than the way in which they’re using it. Then they start saying: ‘Well, you’re a self hating Jew, you’re not a real Jew. You’re a kapo, which your mother must have been if she survived the war,’ you know, the sort of absolute and disgusting nonsense.

And I always wonder to myself, who appointed these people as the new deity, that they can now reinterpret the scriptures and decide who is or isn’t a proper Jew.

I mean, this is the extent of the madness that we’re experiencing.

But I think it also falls within a sort of a global move over the past dozen or so years, towards a sort of an extreme ethno-nationalism, where racism in so many forms has reared its head again. And, again, the irony of this and the absurdity of this is that when we see Israel’s allies, besides the obvious: America, the UK most western European countries – you know, in political leaders like Viktor Orban or Mahendra Modi or Donald Trump, these are all people who personally have quite anti-Semitic instance, by all accounts. And if they don’t, they’re certainly happy to use anti-Semitism for their own political purposes.

I mean, Orban, for instance, the Hungarian prime minister, uses this appalling anti-Semitic imagery in every election campaign that he runs, to hold on to power. But he is welcomed to Israel constantly and regularly as a great friend of the Israeli state.

So we have the State of Israel, actually aligning itself with real life anti-Semites, but then accusing other people of being anti-Semitic, in order to protect itself.

This is the sort of madness that we inhabit at the moment. And I think the most important thing we can do to find a way out of this is to keep on making these things explicit, to keep on speaking up, writing about how these things are being abused, and who suffers the consequence of them.

Because, of course, the primary sufferers, if you will, are the Palestinian people. But even in the United Kingdom today, if we see this extraordinary rise of Islamophobia, which is barely mentioned in our mainstream media, it’s all about the rise in anti-Semitism.

And of course, a rise in any form of racism is appalling. But you can’t speak about the one without the other. And for me, what is so terrifying in the United Kingdom is that Islamophobia is primarily generated by and emanates from the state itself.

OK: Like we saw recently.

AF: Exactly. And that is really scary. Yeah. And so that closes down the space, to be able to criticize the state of Israel, to be able to criticize the ongoing genocide.

And our responsibility is to try and open that space by speaking out as loudly and as constantly as we can.

OK: I mean, we were supposed to be over all this. I mean, frankly, the anti-Apartheid movement was supposed to, you know, put the final nail in the coffin of worldwide racism. And yet we’re back to the immigration debate, the issue of Islamophobia. I mean, we’ve regressed

GK: Sure, which actually leads me to ask Andrew a question, very mindful of us conversing, which I value, I really do.

Where, if we look at our comparable struggles – in your case against South African type apartheid, which fortunately for you, resulted in victory. And we in our struggle as Palestinians against Israeli type apartheid, which we have not yet overcome – how can we, as Palestinians, learn from you? Is there something where we haven’t done or should be doing? How could we improve our performance?

Because I tell you, it’s become absolutely urgent, this is not an academic question. We need definitely to have a strategy, an intelligent strategy, to fight what I have described just recently as overwhelming odds.

OK: And can I supplement that with the question of what is the role of charismatic leadership in that, because you had Nelson Mandela, I mean, you mentioned Yasser Arafat, who for all his issues, was very charismatic.

AF: Yes. Unfortunately, in the world in which we live in, I think, if anything, it’s got worse since, you know, the days of Yasser Arafat, and even Nelson Mandela, who didn’t pass that long ago. It feels like a lifetime in some senses in terms of what’s happened politically.

I think, sadly, that sort of charismatic leadership is important. I think it’s so much more difficult to emerge in the Palestinian context, because potential leaders are snuffed out so much more quickly.

So, you know, an interviewer asked me, for a fairly mainstream television channel recently, and said to me: ‘Well, you know, you had Mandela, who do the Palestinians have?’

And I said: ‘Well, you know, there are all sorts of people I could nameBut the vast majority of them are sitting in Israeli jails and have been, for as long, if not longer than Mandela sat in an apartheid jail.’

So I think there probably are Palestinian leaders. But I think that because of the license that Israel has to repress in a way that the Apartheid South African state never did, or to the extent that the Apartheid South African state never did, it makes the emergence of that leadership so much more difficult.

But at the same time as saying that, not discounting the importance of charismatic leadership, a struggle has to gain traction amongst tens of millions of people globally. And I think what the ANC was very successful at, which has caused us problems since our democracy has been in place, to be honest, is we were an incredibly broad church as a liberation movement. And we were incredibly inclusive.

Yes, of course, there were splits. There was the Pan Africanist Congress, there was the Azanian People’s Organization, the Black Consciousness Movement,. But we will all broadly aligned with our tactics of struggle. And I think internationally, the most important of those was, obviously, the BDS movement against South Africa.

And I do feel that in the case of Palestine, because of all the obstacles we’ve spoken about in terms of our own governments, media, etc, in the so-called West, that hasn’t gained the traction that it did in the case of the South African apartheid struggle.

And you know, one of the few tiny slivers of light amidst this horrendous unfolding tragedy in Gaza, and on the West Bank, we shouldn’t forget, is that I think an enormous number of ordinary people around the world – in the Global South, it’s very apparent – but even in the so called western world in the Global North, a lot of very ordinary people are starting to see Israel in a very different light.

And I think that makes this moment an incredibly important one. And I honestly believe that the struggle for the Liberation of Palestine needs to coalesce around the BDS struggle, and around encouraging as many people as possible across the world to respond to this genocide by doing things they can do in their own lives.

You know, just like when you walk into a supermarket, like people used to walk past the Outspan Oranges which were from South Africa, they used to drive past the Shell petrol station and on to the next one, not that the next oil company was any better, but at least they weren’t the primary provider of oil to the apartheid military in South Africa. I really think, not that it’s my place to give this advice, but that would be my overwhelming focus.

And also the amount of work that was done by people like Oliver Tambo, Joe Slovo, Thabo Mbeke, Ruth First, before she was murdered by the apartheid state, and many, many others in getting the media onside, which is of course, much more difficult now, because you just don’t have the access to the sort of commercialized media that wasn’t as commercial in those days where you know, the BBC, they would give them a platform. Even while the British government was trying to stop any support for boycotting South African goods, etc, etc.

So it is incredibly difficult. But I do think that that needs to be the focus, and that in a time of struggle for liberation, the things that unite us, and I know it sounds trite, but the things that unite us being so much more important than the things on which we have differences.

And, you know, again, it is not my place, to lecture to Palestinian people on any issue, but from my own experience of struggle, that was where the ANC had success.

You know, we had within the movement, economically, we had everybody from Thatcherites to the far, far left, and everything in between. And for the sake of our struggle for liberation, they all work together, despite those differences.

I find even, you know, in the United Kingdom, there are some differences between groups who are working towards the liberation of Palestine that are based here. And I just constantly think to myself, because I sort of tend to work across the board, and I often just want to say to people, these differences, be their strategic, be their ideological, be they personal, are so much less important than getting ourselves out of the situation where it is possible to commit a genocide against the Palestinian people and our governments do absolutely nothing about it, except provide the weapons for it and therefore profit from it.

So I think that would be the overwhelming message.

GK: Thank you. I take away two things from that. First of all, the importance of leadership.

Quite honestly, even if it’s not charismatic, you need a leadership, any kind of struggle needs a clear leadership. And when you think about the outpouring of sympathy of so many ordinary people over on this side of the world, who long to aim… they want to support what the Palestinians want.

And then the question is, what do the Palestinians want, because you immediately are up against this really serious and very debilitating fact, which is that there is no unified leadership, and no unified vision beyond, of course, right sounding, very vague ideas of liberation, and freedom, and so on. So that’s one.

And the other takeaway is, is the fact that the media is crucial, because the narrative has been so crucial. In the case of Palestine, Israel, you know, the real battle was for the story, the narrative. Because if you think about it, when this insane idea that you actually have a bunch of Europeans go out to a country, full of other people, and really seriously think about establishing a state for themselves in this place, it’s insane.

How do you how do you make it pass? You have to get a convincing story. And they did. They did brilliantly. The Bible, the Old Testament, people coming home, persecution, we need a refuge… all this together worked very well indeed. And they’ve been controlling the narrative ever since.

Where the media comes in, that we’re just seeing where the media comes in, of course, is in the propagation of this narrative. So it follows that if we as Palestinians were able to make inroads into media representation of another story, which is a quite different story, not just us as a poor little people etc, but but to do with justice, to do with freedom, to deal with oppression to do etc, it would it would help in a big way.

AF: You’re absolutely right. And the ANC and the broader liberation movement was superb at telling the story of apartheid in South Africa.

But there are the added difficulties, you’re very early on in our conversation, you spoke about the difference between the Afrikanas and the Zionists. And because of this very complex, psychological, political anthropological manifestation that has resulted in the West, swallowing the story whole and being incredibly uncritical towards it.

I mean, the South African state tried to buy up newspapers. Fully half of the apartheid budget was off the books, not even parliament got to see it. And it was used for all sorts of clandestine activity, including buying media, in the United States of America, here, etc, etc.

It didn’t work. And it didn’t work, because the liberation movement across its various parts, did have a clear narrative, and made absolutely clear what the story wasn’t.

It was a very simple narrative. This is one of the greatest injustices that has ever been perpetrated against humanity. It is racist in nature. And it has to come to an end. For the world to be a civilized place, this has to come to an end, it was pretty much as simple as that.

And that is not different to the narrative about Palestine,

OK: But it had a very clear end in a secular, democratic, single state.

AF: That’s the other thing. There was a lot of debate. And we forget this. You know, in the moment, we look at, at our struggle, the apartheid struggle, ‘oh, my goodness, what an effective struggle.’

Believe me, being a part of that struggle from the inside, didn’t seem particularly focused, clear, or effective at all. It is retrospectively that it feels far more like that. And I think that’s important to bear in mind.

In 1986, when I had to leave South Africa. If someone had told me to the party, it would be over four years later, I would have used my training as a clinical psychologist and offered them a straitjacket. Because there was absolutely no prospect of it.

You know, we were in what we call the reform-repression cycle, which is absolutely brutal on the ground. And the state seemed so powerful. And it had so much support from Western Europe, the UK and the United States of America, that we just couldn’t see how it would end four years later.

So you do need a confluence of geopolitical factors, of economic factors.

But I do think that a coherent narrative, you can even put aside what comes after. And there is a cost to that. And we’ve experienced that cost in South Africa, where we are economically in a total mess., because we effectively bought into what was then known as the Washington Consensus,. And we applied an economic model that is just so inappropriate for our circumstances.

We have a 37 percent formal unemployment rate at the moment as a consequence, and enormous daily suffering of huge numbers of people.

But when you’re in the process of a liberation struggle, you have to try and unify around something. And again, to me, and I would never want to suggest to the Palestinian people what their liberation should look like, because everybody wanted to tell South Africans what our liberation should look like.

The Americans, for instance, developed a model of what they called consociation federalism, that would have been perfect for South Africa, that basically would have allowed a qualified franchise that would have kept the white minority in effective power, economic and political. We just didn’t understand what it was.

In the case of the Palestinian people. I personally think that there is an obvious endpoint. And it’s an endpoint around which there is a very easy narrative, especially at the moment when you have the entire political class of Israel, effectively, saying that they wouldn’t give it two-state solution the time of day.

It seems you are in fact, at a moment where there could be far greater unity about what liberation might look like. And I think perhaps the most important thing that should be happening, once we eventually emerge from this appalling current situation in which hundreds of people continue to be slaughtered every day, is I would think that the broad Palestinian liberation movement needs to have a sort of a unity conference where there is agreement about a collective leadership that will take the struggle forward, where there is agreement about certain of the basic principles of what that liberation or liberated future would look like.

We had a document called the Freedom Charter. And it set out very clearly what the principles of our democratic state would look like. And I wonder whether this isn’t a moment, or in the hopefully near future, there isn’t a moment to hold that sort of a process and it would somehow have to figure out how you include the views of those many leaders who are in prison.

And, you know, the ANC found out, and they managed very cleverly, you know, the creation of Mandela was an intentional ploy. I mean, the prisoners were writing his autobiography while they were sat on Robben Island. And it was transcribed onto toilet tissue in tiny, tiny script that was hidden underground in the quarry that they had to work in. And they when one of the early prisoners was released long before any of the major releases were thought about, that was smuggled out.

And this was a very conscious processes, creating a myth around somebody. And that needs that singularity of purpose from the Palestinians.

GK: Oh, sure. I agree with all of that. But there are specifics to the Palestinian situation which make this very sensible approach of yours, make it really radical, not least of them is the insertion of this two-state solution idea into the mix.

Where what’s happened is that, not only is there a kind of international consensus about this being the sensible endpoint, but many Palestinians are also persuaded that what they really want is a state of their own, free of Israelis, and Israel can continue, they don’t have a comment about that.

But that is extremely divisive, and makes it very difficult to have this unified vision. But if you were to do to ask me what what would be, in my opinion, the only endpoint to this terrible, terrible story, the only possible endpoint is one democratic state, which includes the community of settlers – which is indeed what Israel is – a community of settlers and the original inhabitants, the ones who live in historic Palestine, and the ones who have been expelled outside and their descendants. The only realistic, I think, great, realistic, practical, just and humane endpoint to this, is the creation of a proper democratic state in which both these peoples become equal citizens.

I cannot imagine any other endpoint which a) would be as fair, as just, as sensible, and as sustainable, and as meeting the fundamental needs of the Palestinian people, which is the right of return, as well as their freedom to be equal citizens in their own homeland.

OK: I mean, there is, of course, a huge problem from getting from here to there, which is we are witnessing a period of intense genocide and violence and hatred. And do you think it’s realistic to go from here to a equal citizens, equal rights situation? Or do you think you have to go through a stage of separation, without leaving Palestinians under continued occupation?

GK: Yeah, well, first of all, in having who said what I said, I purposely use the word endpoint.

This does not have any implication of time in it. Because at the moment, the imperative, the priority is to stop the genocide and to stop the ethnic cleansing.

By the way, I mean, there is a nightmare scenario, which crosses my mind a lot of the time, which is that Israel might succeed in expelling all the Palestinians, or a majority of them, outside the borders of the state, whereupon the one democratic state thing, that I’m talking about, no longer applies. There is that nightmare scenario, it’s not altogether out of the question, by the way,

But on the assumption that a majority of Palestinians will remain on the land, we cannot think of this kind of living together and so on, in the short term, it’s not possible.

However, it’s terribly important to have in your mind an endpoint, a trajectory. Even if you make some kind of interim arrangement, I don’t know what that might be. Always, it’s important that that is what you’re ultimately aiming for. That must never be lost sight of, it’s the only Proper…

OK: Perhaps, perhaps Germany is a better model, that sort of a separation into two states and then reunification at some point?

GK: Well, you, of course, once, you can let your imagination roam, and you’re can think ‘well, it could be this, it could be that,’ but what I’m really concerned with is that we never lose sight of where we’re actually going.

Because there are fundamentals in this struggle. And there are fundamentals which Israel has done its best to ignore, demolish, delete, the lot,. Which are that the whole land, this piece of land, is the homeland of the Palestinian people, whoever else is residing in it at the moment that is their home.

Secondly, it’s the homeland of all the Palestinian people, those outside, their descendants, people like me, this is their homeland. And they have the right to go there and live in it.

And thirdly, because we want a peaceful outcome, we don’t want endless conflict and endless struggle, we will accept the settler community and allow them and confer on them equal rights, equal citizenship.

That’s a very generous attitude on the part of, a very generous offer, on the part of Palestinians.

So this endpoint, I insist, is the only one that will actually last, because it will deal with the injustice question.

If we keep that in mind, as I say, very often, you know, as you must know very well, where you have an endpoint you’re clear about, you know very well that in trying to get there, there are all sorts of diversions and byways and stoppages and so on. As long as always in your mind that is the ultimate end of this terrible story.

AF: From my perspective, the only thing I can say is, you know, we had to go through a transitional moment in South Africa in the sense that we had a government of national unity for a number of years. It ended sooner than expected.

But even in the lead up to that, in 1994, there was a lot of emigration of white families. There was massive stockpiling in the lead up to our first democratic election.

Nelson Mandela was portrayed as this communist ogre. And I think people were a little shocked when he physically emerged from prison and there was this very elderly, grandfatherly figure who was so wonderfully lovely to everybody he came across.

He made a point of visiting for tea the widow of the architect of apartheid, who was a guy called Hendrik Verwoerd, in this little whites-only enclave that she lived in in the province that was then known as the Orange Free State.

But it took people a long time to realize that, in fact, rather than being a threat to their existence as a minority community, it was a guarantee of their existence.

And if you actually looked at the history, but of course, the apartheid state prevented South Africans from having access to the words of Mandela, you weren’t allowed to have an image of him. And you know, when people heard what he actually said at his treason trial, was that he fought, not just for an end to the domination of white over black, but he would fight to ensure there was no domination of black over white.

And that’s what he’d given his life to. And if he had to die to achieve that, so be it, he would.

And of course that was exorcized from history.

And the reality is that South Africa, which post 1994 has faced many challenges. First of all, despite all of those challenges, it could never be the sort of abomination it was for 350 odd years, when it was a racist oligarchy, one.

Two, the minority community, incredibly fearful, very, very fearful of the change that was coming, have flourished in a democracy. And that’s not just down to the economic inequalities, and that they’ve been able to maintain so much of their economic privilege.

But it’s also been down to the reality that the vast, vast majority of South Africans are committed to a country in which all the people residing there can live harmoniously together.

And that’s been the extraordinary success of our democracy, is the extent to which that has taken place.

OK: And that is precisely the sustainability of the one-state model.

AF: When I look at communities who feel threatened and endangered, including the Jewish community, I have a an overwhelming belief, from my own personal experience, and from my family’s history, that the best way in which to ensure the safety, the security, and the prosperity of everybody, is for everybody to live together equally.

And unless one is prepared to have that as the bedrock foundation principle…

OK: You wouldn’t have thought it was too hard.

AF: You know, I don’t see how we can assume that any situation could be resolved for any group that feels under enormous threat like that.

And it’s just, it’s really important to bear in mind, as I said that, you know, in 1986, the extent of racism, the extent and intensity of the repression in South Africa…

I left the country very quickly, because I had to report for my military service in the apartheid military, which I wasn’t prepared to do. And the night before I was leaving, I was up on a hill overlooking Cape Town, and I thought to myself, I will never again be able to set foot in the city or country of my birth.

And when I arrived here, and then I was in the States for a bit and then back here., you know, most of my fellow South Africans, including in the ANC, and other places were of a similar view. It’s very unlikely. Because that’s what we all thought then.

Things can change very quickly. And they did in the case of South Africa. Four years later, very inconsequentially, I can go home. All our political prisoners were freed.

Four years further down the line, Nelson Mandela was elected as our first ever democratically elected president. And that does, especially in such dark times like this, that continues to give me hope. It really does.

And it’s why I believe that even in our worst moments, we should be clear about what our fundamental objectives and principles are. And they are simple, as we’ve said, they’re simple, we shouldn’t overcomplicate the issue. Because when we try and over complicate, it’s usually done by somebody who is trying to reserve privilege for a group of which they are apart. Keep it simple.

OK: I have to say, though, the thought of it being four years from this point to the sort of Liberation of Palestine seems very unlikely.

GK: I know, I know. But listen, I really appreciate what Andrew’s been saying.

I long for such a moment. I really do, where in your darkest hour, you’re thinking, ‘there’s no way out of this.’ And then, unexpectedly, things you know nothing about now suddenly happen, come together and then freedom,.

You know, there’s a Quranic saying – God knows I’m not an expert on the Quran – but there is a Quranic saying, which says, in response to people saying, ‘Oh, it’ll could be years before…,’ the Quranic saying says: In that time, God will create what you know nothing about now.

You see, clearly that’s the sentiment, things will happen, you don’t know anything about this moment.

OK: I think this is a very good point to say thank you to both of you. A rare hopeful moment. And thank you to everyone who’s been watching.




I am a South African, born in Africa. I am in my 60th decade here, I lived through the worst of apartheid, I know it when I see it, smell it and hear it.
Anyone who has lived through a life changing experience -- apartheid, cancer, a horror of human loss -- knows that thing in a profoundly different way to those who have not.
One sees it from the inside, the other as an observer.
I know that the 'thing' I see quacking like a duck and walking like a duck, is a duck!
It is the same philosophy that bound the South African apartheid system with the Israeli system during the darkest days of SA's time. The Israeli's provided weapons, technology, license agreements and technical skills to those defending and upholding SA apartheid.
The Israeli apartheid project is not new, it is simply in a new phase when it can cock a snoot at the world because it has a bully at their back.
As was the case in SA - there cannot be a balkanisation / bantustan solution in Palestine.
The two-state idea was always a dead duck... and some people recognised that long ago and opposed it.
The solution will be found by going back to how the land was in 1916 (pre-Balfour, pre-colonisation). It was a land inhabited by a people, call them whatever they care to be called, but it was not an empty land.
If Jewish or any other people care to live in that parcel of land (as it was in 2016), then they can do so as citizens with the same rights as those who lived there then.
It cannot be that a third party gives away something they have not title or right to.
Otherwise, I can claim that parts of Nebraska are "an empty land" and settle it for the Yazidis...

PALESTINE: One country, different peoples, equal rights, one vote each...


Thei managed not to mention Hamas , even the name, once.but if we want to really change the narrative, then we have to dismantle the ban and censorship on Hamas, which Is all western of we are here today, at this.moment, we owe It to Hamas. Hamas has already won. Palestinian question. Was dead and buried , since 2 decades. Pubblic opinion and rest of the world didn't care anymore, Palestine was mostly ignored by all. So Hamas did the only thing It could : It shuffled all the cards on the table, in a very dramatic but effective way. Nobody would have cared otherwise. Remember the date: Abraham Accords with Saudi were imminent, and after 7th october they were cancelled.
Moreover there is much misinformation in the west about Hamas reality, saying they are oppressors, corrupts, living on the shoulder of Palestinians, leaders living in luxury abroad and so on. I partially believe this, I guess instead they have great popularity amongst Palestinians. I don't believe mainstream anymore, Imagine on this arguments.
Would have been nice to learn more on this matter

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Omar Karmi

Omar Karmi is an independent journalist and former Jerusalem and Washington, DC, correspondent for The National newspaper.