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DA double speak: Steenhuisen trips over Gaza question



Democratic Alliance (DA) party leader John Steenhuisen shocked the Jewish community when he put his weight behind the South African case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Steenhuisen’s response to a question about whether what was happening in Gaza was genocide was, “We’ve got international organisations [like] the ICJ which is tasked with adjudicating these things. I’ve said very clearly from the beginning that we must respect the processes of the ICJ. We must respect the outcome because that’s international law. And as a party that supports international law, we’ll abide by whatever the outcome is.”

He was answering questions during a discussion at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering event on 14 March.

However, Steenhuisen told the SA Jewish Report, “We’re not backing the ICJ case. The point I made was that it’s the appropriate forum for genocide to be determined. It’s not up to politicians or social media opportunists to declare whether something is a genocide.

“The 7 October attacks were heinous, inhumane, and barbaric,” he said. “This is why we issued a number of statements condemning them.” He believes Israel has the right to defend itself, especially after the massacre, and in addition, “any ceasefire, temporary or permanent, will have to be preceded by the release of all hostages held by Hamas. No pathways to peace are open while the hostages remain in captivity.”

It was the DA which has questioned the motivation, backing, and funding of South Africa’s case against Israel at the ICJ.

However, Steenhuisen told The Gathering, “We don’t need to wait however long it’s going to take for the ICJ to make a decision about whether it’s genocide, to agree that what’s happening there needs to stop immediately. We need a ceasefire. We need parties to come to the table, and we need to work towards finding a lasting peace. Let’s get humanitarian aid in there. But let’s also start looking for mature leadership in Palestine and in Israel to come together like we did in South Africa and negotiate a way forward.”

Asked at The Gathering, “If we wake up tomorrow and the DA has the majority, would you continue to pursue the ICJ case?” Steenhuisen responded, “Well, the case has to continue because it has been laid and due process has to follow. I don’t think it would be in anyone’s interest to withdraw the case, nor would you be able to do so. But what I would do is make sure that South Africa plays a constructive role in trying to bring people together.”

To the SA Jewish Report, Steenhuisen said, “The case cannot be withdrawn as it was accepted by the ICJ and argued by both sides before the ICJ. The process now awaits judgement. The case could have been withdrawn only prior to a hearing.”

At The Gathering, he said, “We’ve got a unique offer to make to the Middle East because we, too, were on the brink of a war situation in South Africa. Continuing the bombardment isn’t going to get the hostages released. Negotiation is going to get the hostages released.”

Though his comments imply that the Middle East conflict simply needs to follow a similar path to resolution as apartheid South Africa, Steenhuisen told the SA Jewish Report, “I’ve never once compared the situation in Israel to apartheid. I did, however, say that South Africa could play a far more constructive role in easing the conflict. This is largely because many thought the divisions and political situation in South Africa was intractable yet we were able to overcome it through peaceful negotiations.”

For him, the ideal situation in the Middle East would be a “secure, flourishing Israel living alongside an independent Palestine with a democratically elected government, working together to promote peace and prosperity in the two countries and the region”.

Asked by the SA Jewish Report what his approach was to antisemitism and virulent anti-Israel hatred in this country, he said, “I’ve spoken out consistently against discrimination, stereotyping, and hatred in all its forms, and will continue to do so.”

Local political analyst Daniel Silke believes Steenhuisen was “caught somewhat off guard by the nature of the question put to him, and his response was what I would regard as a fairly messy response, clearly ill-prepared for the question. But of course, the questioner was also looking to put the DA on the spot and seeking to continue the theme that the DA is more supportive of Israel than the African National Congress [ANC] or many of the other South African political parties.

“This was clearly an attempt to continue to extract as much oxygen as possible out of the Israel/Gaza situation and to try and catch Steenhuisen off guard, which I think the questioner did manage to do,” said Silke. “I don’t believe his answer necessarily backed the ICJ [case] in any substantive way. He tried to wiggle his way out of the question, not being particularly clear on the answer, and I don’t think this necessarily reflects any kind of substantive shift in the DA’s more nuanced approach to the Middle East.

“I don’t think, therefore, that this would alienate the DA’s backers or funders or even the Jewish community for that matter, which is probably more likely to vote for the DA than most of the other parties. One shouldn’t get carried away by the statements from Steenhuisen, but it did reflect how easy it is for a politician to get derailed by a tough question, particularly on this very emotive issue. This issue is still playing itself out in Western Cape politics and could very well have further resonance. The DA therefore must tread quite carefully, and needs to provide detailed speaking notes to Steenhuisen and its other public representatives in how to handle such awkward questions.”

Economic and political advisor Dr Frans Cronje said, “I understood John to say that if his party found itself in a post-election government, that government would inherit the case from its predecessor, which is correct. The full make-up of that new government would determine how it chose to proceed with the case and similar cases. This may be a very difficult issue to navigate, and shouldn’t be allowed to scupper the chances of success for that government. I further understood John to say that South Africa’s experience in brokering a domestic democratic dispensation might be valuable in the Middle East, which is again correct.”

Said Professor Karen Milner, the national chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, “There should always be an acknowledgement that a ceasefire would be impossible while Hamas is still holding hostages in Gaza. We would hope that calls for the release of civilian hostages being held in unspeakable conditions by Hamas should be uppermost in all comments on the war.”

Benji Shulman, the director of public policy at the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), said, “The SAZF reaffirms that the fastest and most effective way to end the fighting and further loss of life is for Hamas to release the hostages and lay down its arms. Only a Gaza Strip free of Hamas dictatorial rule, its use of human shields, civilian infrastructure, and theft of aid can move towards a pro-peace regime and a better future for all inhabitants of the Middle East.

“The ANC-led government continues to act as the legal arm of Hamas and Iran, wasting taxpayers’ money and ignoring the spread of Islamist extremism on the African continent,” Shulman said. “It also imperils South Africa’s relationships with our trading partners and major trade deals such as AGOA [the African Growth and Opportunity Act] which are worth billions of rands to our economy.”

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  1. Mike

    Mar 29, 2024 at 8:09 am

    Steenhuisen is ill-informed on the issues and a weak leader who is trying to take a politically expedient position on an issue which actually calls for a far more principled position. This wishy washy approach feeds into the current anti Israel and antisemitic discourse in this country and provides succour to the hamas terrorists and their supporters. This approach will not get my vote

  2. Peter

    Apr 13, 2024 at 10:06 am

    I am a dissident in that I think what Israel is doing is a monstrous racist crime (I am not religious). Nevertheless this article seems fairly reported, and as someone in the room, I agree that Steenhuisen floundered like a fish thrown onto the deck of a ship, and tried to say something to both audiences simultaneously. It is possible his mealy mouthed-ness is enough to retain both audiences. It is also possible that it lost a part of both audiences. Neither group is homogenous, and a single voting block.

  3. David Le Page

    Apr 24, 2024 at 10:44 am

    It’s very distressing that the leader of a major South African political party is incapable of recognising and calling out Israeli apartheid – a view supported by 25% of US Jews in a 2021 poll, not to mention principled Israeli human rights organisations such as B’Tselem, and a great many Israelis, not least leading politicians, whose views are catalogued on the website Steenhuisen betrays the responsibilities bequeathed us by our history and clearly does not have the moral clarity that his role demands. The ANC is a depleted, morally compromised and in many instances corrupt party, but in calling out Israel for genocide, it did the right thing.

  4. Enrico

    Apr 30, 2024 at 5:11 pm

    John Steenhuisen is talking about “negotiations” but is it possible to negotiate with a party/organization that has in its 1988 Hamas charter “the last hour will not come until the Muslims (not limited to Gaza) kill the Jews (not limited to Israel) and if the Jews hide behind the rocks and trees, the rocks and trees will say ‘dear Muslim, here is a Jew, come and kill him’ except the gharqad tree because it’s a Jewish tree”?

    How do you negotiate with an organization that has such a statement, not original to itself, but sourced from Sahih Al Muslim 2922?

    Sahih Al Muslim and Sahih Al Bukhari are the two most trusted sources of Sunni Islam scriptures outside the Qu’ran, and this is what is in the 1988 Hamas charter…how do negotiate with that?

    • Beenie

      May 29, 2024 at 11:27 pm

      If you actually read the charter, you would see it reads for peaceful cohabitation of the Palestinians and Israelis. The one you reading is fabricated. You mention this, but forget to mention how when Islam CONQUERING Jerusalem while facing PERSECUTION from the Jews and Pagans, realised there were no Jews in Isreal or ordered their warriors to find Jewish families to move into Isreal because it’s their right as much as it’s the right of Muslims and Christian’s to be there. No where in any books does Al Bukhari mention the killing of Jews as they along with Christian’s are people of the book and are not pagan worshippers. Muslims are ordered, in the Quran, to protect Abrahamic faiths no matter what

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