Fire the Founders! Fire the Founding Opposition!

On the flight back from South Africa I began reading Andrew Feinstein’s After the Party. Feinstein was a young member of parliament representing the African National Congress in South Africa’s new democracy after 1994. While his own involvement with the ANC only began in earnest with the transition to democracy, he revered the people who had succeeded in overthrowing apartheid.

By August 2001, Feinstein had quit parliament, forced out because he had pushed for a full investigation of the arms-purchasing scandal that has led to the top ranks of the party. Even beforehand, he was furious with President Mbeki Thabo’s surreal refusal to deal with the AIDS pandemic sweeping through South Africa. Mbeki insisted that poverty, not a virus, caused the disease, and that Western pharmaceutical companies were trying to bankrupt Africa by selling dangerous and useless drugs. It was a conspiracy theory turned into a national policy of ignoring a plague.

The tie between the arms scandal and AIDS denial was the transformation of the ANC from a liberation movement embracing a wide variety of opinions to a top-down party where dissent was crushed. No questions about AIDS, no questions about government officials and their relatives getting rich in the process of buying unnecessary, inferior and overpriced arms.

As an aside, yes, Feinstein is Jewish, marginally. His chapter on being Jewish is not quite the shortest in the book. “… The majority of South African Jewish activists [against apartheid] describe themselves as non-Jewish Jews,” he says, paraphrasing another writer in order to explain himself obliquely. He knows that the lesson he learned from Europe’s dehumanization of Jews, culminating in the Holocaust, is to oppose dehumanization anywhere. It doesn’t occur to him to connect this message with “remember that you were slaves in Egypt.” His historical memory or cultural literacy doesn’t reach there. We don’t know whether the parents who influenced him or the grandparents who influenced them were moved by that idea. The reluctance of the organized Jewish community in South Africa to challenge apartheid didn’t encourage people like Feinstein to show up for an evening class and learn more about their tradition. Feinstein is a brave man, but he’s not the man to address the riddle of whether modern Jewish radicalism stems from ancient tradition or recent circumstances. But it would be unfair to fault him on that. This is a memoir of a politician who instinctively, rather than philosophically, tried to do what was right – first opposing apartheid, then breaking with his party.

Reading Feinstein reminded me of conversation once with a friend who worked as a managerial consultant to non-profits. To every organization, she said, she had to give the same advice. They paid her, but never took her advice: Fire the founder. The organizer who knew how to put the group together and get it going was usually abysmal at running it, at sharing power, at tolerating new ideas.

The same advice may apply to revolutionary movements: If only it were possible to fire them as soon as they won, or at least soon after. The movement with the élan of victory does do well at rallying support at the start. But it has already made itself obsolete. Its methods were developed for the struggle, not for runnig the state. As Feinstein points out, secrecy and discipline served the ANC well as an organization in exile fighting the regime, but not as a ruling party.

Israel’s founding party was Mapai, which later morphed into Labor. I give the party credit for leadership in the early years, for creating a social welfare system, for building the economy, for accepting some judicial limitations on its power, and perhaps most of all for eventually accepting an electoral defeat and giving up power. As a founding movement, it did more than most to accept limitations. But it also went right on sanctifying rural settlement – a tactic that helped create the state but that was misdirected after independence and destructive after 1967. The party leaders’ admiration for Jewish fighters eventually led to turning Israeli politics over to generals. It treated the institutions it created before statehood – the Histadrut labor union, the kibbutz movements, and more – as interest groups to be satisfied. To this day, Labor hasn’t really come up with a platform for an established country, which is why it is fading into obscurity.

Ah, but this theory is to too simple to explain our local woes. I returned to Israel to Israel in time for the police recommendation to charge Ehud Olmert for habitual corruption, for corruption as addictive behavior. The same day as that recommendation, Olmert managed to get his cabinet to back a bill that would reduce the powers of the Supreme Court to overturn legislation. Olmert, the lawyer, is doggedly trying, to his last day in office, to rip down the rule of law.

You can’t accuse him of being a product of Mapai or of the founding generation. He’s a second-generation product of the Israeli right. His Kadima party is merely the more pragmatic wing of the Likud, which itself is the political descendant of the pre-state rightwing opposition. What Kadima shares with the Likud is a shamelessness about machine politics. Investigations of the prime minister were regular news under Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Besides that, Likud/Kadima have yet to come up with a coherent policy to replace their 1948 platform of the Whole Land and waving one’s fist in the face of the gentiles. Maybe it is time to fire the founding opposition as well. Or at least to ask Feinstein to make aliyah and head the Knesset Control Committee.

Oh yes, Feinstein. A recent blog entry he posted indicates that for now his book is only in print in South Africa, but he’s preparing a U.S. and U.K. edition. I hope he includes a map and a cast of characters at the opening, so we can keep track of the names we haven’t seen in our own newspapers, and that he adds in a bit more background. But even if he doesn’t, I’d still recommending reading it.

3 thoughts on “Fire the Founders! Fire the Founding Opposition!”

  1. I give Feinstein credit for being willing to break with the people he idolized as supposedly being for “democracy”. It is a very common phenomenon among “progressives” to assume that all white people who are in conflict with “third-world” people (like us Jews/Israelis, for example) to assume they are all evil racists, while the “third-worlders” are saints and all their despicable traits and actions are to be overlooked or forgiven. A good example is Michael Lerner of Berkeley, California and Tikkum Magazine who has denounced Israel and the US for decades and then recently met King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and praised him as a great man, a leader of a country that still basically has slavery, oppresses women officially in law, chops off peoples hands and heads, flogs religious violators publicly, and has no parliament. Israelis do the same with the Palestinians…in spite of the organized terror emanating from there, the official Judeophobia in the state-controlled media, the corruption, Israeli “progressives” are constantly promising that if we make enough concessions to them, they will suddenly develop a normal civil society and live in peace with us.

  2. I forgot to mention that “ripping down the rule of law” in Israel is the preserve of the “progressive forces”, i.e. the Left. It is they who have, for years now, conducted very selective prosecutions of public officials that are nothing more than political harrassment. ALL SUCH INVESTIGATIONS OF PUBLIC OFFICIALS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ROOTING OUT ‘WRONGDOING’. If you are on the “right side” of the ruling “progressive” oligarchy that controls the Supreme Court, the police investigations division and much of the media, you can do anything you want and you won’t be touched. If, on the other hand, you belong to the “enemy” (i.e. the Right), they can do whatever they want. This is not to say that those who are prosecuted are not guilty of something, but they haven’t done anything that those on the “correct” side (i.e. the Left) haven’t done. There is no equality before the law.
    As someone in Stalin’s NKVD stated once “you give me the man, I’ll give you the charges”. Or in other words, the police are told “get something on him!”.
    Examples follow
    1977-Rabin narrowly defeats Peres in Labor Party race for Party Chairman. Rabin narrowly wins. Miraculously, a few days later, someone leaks info about an illegal bank account Rabin’s wife has in the US. Rabin steps down, Peres becomes head of the party (and then loses the subsequent election to Begin).
    1992 – Aryeh Deri breaks agreement with Peres to have SHAS party form coalition with Peres. A week later, it is announced that Deri is being investigated for a whole slew of crimes. After years of investigation, almost all charges are dropped, and he is sent to prison for relatively minor counts of mishandling funds.

    2000-Ezer Weizman is President. Rumors are circulated in the media that he will step down “due to poor health”. He denies this emphatically. A few days later, information about him receiving $600,000 in bribes from a French Jew who is reported to have connections with French intelligence. Weizman steps down but no charges are pressed. Peres runs for President to replace him but loses to Moshe Katsav.

    2000-Ehud Barak and the Labor Party are found to have raised millions of dollars in illegal campaign contributions. Yitzhak Herzog uses his power of attorney as head of several charity funds to funnel cash to Barak’s campaign. All are investigated, no charges are brought because of “lacuna” in the law. However, the Labor party is fined millions of shekels by IIRC the state controller’s office.

    2005-Sharon is accused of accepting bribes and illegal campaign contributions. A few days later, obviously completely by coincidence, he announces his plan to destroy Gush Katif in complete contradiction to his campaign promises. TV commentator Amnon Abramovich says “as long as Sharon carries out the policies we want (i.e. the destruction of Gush Katif), he must be protected like an etrog and charges should not be filed against him. By an amazing coincidence, Attorney General Mazuz announces no charges will be filed. Sharon then destroys Gush Katif.

    2006-President Moshe Katsav (who defeated Peres in 2000) suddenly is accused of rape and sexual harrassment that supposedly has been going on for years. His term ends, he does not run for re-election, he accepts a plea bargain and the rape charges, after having been luridly trotted in front of the media are suddenly dropped. Shimon Peres finally gets what he wants and is elected President, basically without opposition. Katsav then withdraws his agreement to the plea bargain months ago. As of today, no charges have been filed against him.

    2007-Ehud Olmert appoints Daniel Friedman as Justice Minister who proposes significant reforms of the Supreme Court. Former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak makes an unprecedented appeal in the media to stop them and basically declares war on Olmert and Friedman. Olmert who has already been under investigation, suddenly finds all kinds of new charges brought against him and endless illegal leaks from the police are given to the media.
    I am willing to bet, in the end, almost all charges will be dropped, although he will be convicted of something, after all it wouldn’t look good if he werent’ (just like Deri).

    2008-Abie Nathan dies. He operated an illegal radio station for 20 years. No charges were ever brought against him for doing this. At his funeral, President Peres says “Abie, it is good you didn’t listen to us when we told you to obey the law”. The Arutz 7 radio station, which unlike Nathan’s “Voice of Peace” supported Right-wing positions, was shut down by the police, something they never did to Nathan (then Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein when asked about this blatant hypocrisy replied “well, we have to start somewhere, we may as well start with Arutz 7”. Arutz 7’s staff are convicted of the felony crime of operating an illegal radio station and are fined tens of thousands of shekels each. When Adir Zik, one of the “felons” passed away, Shimon Peres did not attend his funeral.

  3. “Israeli “progressives” are constantly promising that if we make enough concessions to them, they will suddenly develop a normal civil society and live in peace with us.”

    Y, you could really use a lesson or two from this Feinstein gentleman on the topic of dehumanization.

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