Skip to main content

Andrew Feinstein: The South African politician standing for Gaza

Andrew Feinstein: Meet the South African politician standing against Keir Starmer
6 min read
24 May, 2024
The New Arab Meets: Activist Andrew Feinstein, who discusses South Africa's support for Palestine, British politics and why he's standing against Keir Starmer.

By the time you read this, Andrew Feinstein has officially announced his candidacy to stand as an MP against Labour Pary Leader Keir Starmer in his London constituency, Holborn St. Pancras, in the upcoming general election on 4 July.

Feinstein, a South African political activist campaigner, served under Nelson Mandela in South Africa's first democratic parliament. He says the final reason that solidified his decision to run was the war on Gaza.

Live Story

"We're seeing a genocide before our eyes, and not only are our government doing nothing about it, they're actually profiting from it by the massive sales of weapons," Feinstein tells The New Arab.

"You have an opposition, who are cheerleading Israel as loudly as the government, who try and brand any criticism of their support for Israel, and support for Israel, generally as antisemitism. This is the Labour Party that Keir Starmer has created, and I detest it, and I think that Starmer is emblematic of everything that is wrong with our politics in this country."

Even before October 7, the UK has taken Israel's side from sending arms to only now voting yes for an immediate and sustained ceasefire, despite abstaining in previous calls.

Despite leading the opposition party, Starmer asserted Israel's right to defend itself and even to withhold power and water from the enclave.

"The state of British politics is appalling at the moment," the activist says.

"I believe they [British politicians] show a total lack of courage, a total lack of commitment to the rule of law both in Britain and internationally. They're criminally complicit in what is happening to the people of Gaza."

Being from South Africa, the activist lived through a time of systemised racial segregation in the country, known as apartheid.

From 1948 to the early 1990s, South Africa lived under a series of laws that divided people in South Africa by their race.

Millions of black citizens were forced out of their homes, restricted and confined within their "homelands" and "townships", and faced political and economic discrimination, while white people lived in occupied towns and cities.

Being born to holocaust survivors, Feinstein knew from a young age that apartheid was a "ridiculous system".

His mum would protest against apartheid with the Black Sash, and following in her footsteps, Feinstein himself became involved in the cause.

From providing welfare in townships and building latrines in squatter camps, the politician eventually joined the African National Congress (ANC), a political party known for its opposition to apartheid, with Nelson Mandela as leader.

Andrew Feinstein served under Nelson Mandela in the African National Congress [Getty]

Through a series of negotiations and a decade of national and worldwide protests, apartheid officially ended in 1991.

Today, South Africa lives in a democracy and is helping to end the current apartheid in the Middle East. South Africa has long supported a free Palestine since becoming a democracy in 1994.

The nation has sown some of the strongest backing for the people of Palestine since October 7, even taking Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for its crimes of genocide in Gaza.

"Palestine has always felt a part of our struggle," Feinstein says, noting the similar struggles and obviously huge differences both nations suffered.  

"We see them as fraternal struggles, and it's very much in our political consciousness, still today, Palestine remains a huge issue in South African politics."

The activist talks about how the situation in Palestine and the situation in South Africa were both a consequence of European settler colonialism, noting the profound links between the State of Israel and the apartheid South African state.

Book Club
Live Story

"Israel provided a lot of the weaponry for apartheid South Africa, provided military training, provided intelligence support," says Feinstein.

"In turn, the two countries helped each other become nuclear powers. We also recognise that at the route of both of our oppression is not just the settler colonialism, but this notion that certain groups, certain people are superior to others."

The politician also notes the impact of South Africa taking Israel into court, highlighting its symbolism.

"The fact that a country that has overcome racist oligarchy is the one taking Israel to court is incredibly important," he says.

"This was the point at which the previously oppressed were showing that not only have they become the lawyers, the judges, the academics, etc, but also that it was the previously oppressed now calling out a current oppressor, who is incredibly closely linked to their own oppressor," Feinstein adds. 

"It was just a conformation for me really that a genocide is being perpetrated, which only makes the behaviour of our politicians, not just in Britain, but everywhere in this so-called 'West', all the more indefinable and appalling."

A group of South African lawyers are now preparing to take the United States and the United Kingdon government to court over alleged complicity in Israel's war crimes against Palestinians.

Like the UK, the US has shown strong support for Israel, asserting its right to "defend" itself, voting and abstaining against a ceasefire and being Israel's biggest arms supplier.

The politician believes Britain and Western Europe could put "enormous pressure" on the US by stopping arms, making it "even more difficult" for the US to continue doing so.

"America could stop the genocide tomorrow by stopping the flow of weaponry and ordinance to Israel, that's the only way to stop it," says Feinstein.

"This Israeli government is not going to be satisfied until it has actual control over the land from the river to the sea."

Live Story

With the ICC issuing arrest warrants to Israeli officials, it should show the Western Nations that Israel is violating international law. Whether the same Western powers will be held accountable, Feinstein does not have much hope.

"If we are to have any sense of an international rule of law, all of those who have perpetrated this genocide, and all of those who are being complicit in it, need to face justice," Feinstein says.

"And very sadly, that'll never happen."

However, the activist does believe Israel's war on Gaza might be a "tipping point moment" when people realise the true nature of Israel and Western politics.

He believes the only little bit of hope that one can take from this tragedy is that many might gain a new perspective.

"I think it's going to open a lot of people's eyes to the reality of the nature of the state of Israel, the extreme plight of the Palestinian people, but also the rottenness of our political systems and our politicians."

Anam Alam joined The New Arab in 2024 after freelancing post-university. She frequently writes about human rights and social issues, including women's rights and sex education.

Follow her on X: @itsanamalam