By Tasneem Adams
Criticism against Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng is mounting, with several more organisations voicing their indignation in response to his remarks on Israel. The head of the Constitutional Court in South Africa is facing a furore after he criticised the ANC government’s position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In a webinar discussion with South Africa’s chief rabbi Warren Goldstein hosted by the Jerusalem Post this week, Mogoeng said South Africa could play a greater role in the region by taking the reconciliatory approach adopted by Nelson Mandela at the end of apartheid.
However, Mogoeng’s religious conservatism has also raised eyebrows and his justification of Israeli apartheid through biblical texts. During the discussion, Mogoeng said he believes that as a Christian, he is obligated to love Israel and said that those who curse the Zionist state will be cursed.
“I cannot, as a Christian, do anything other than love and pray for Israel because I know hatred for Israel by me and my nation can only attract unprecedented curses upon our nation,” he said during the virtual dialogue.
As Mogoeng’s comments gained traction on Friday, the People Against Apartheid and Fascism (PAAF) called on him to withdraw his remarks, calling it “callous, insensitive and inflammatory statements”. The human rights group said Mogoeng was “protecting an oppressor in the face of denying human rights and freedoms” and his comments are contrary to the spirit of South Africa’s Constitution.
“How apartheid South Africa’s relationship with Israel is ignored by the Chief Justice is shocking. Furthermore, he ignores the valuable role many faiths have played in the region, including notable Christians such as Archbishop Capucci and Archbishop Theodosios (Hanna) of Sebastia,” said PAAF in a statement.
As a country in which the Constitution and its values should be paramount, South Africa should not be subordinate to personal religious beliefs that erode those hard-won ideals. The organisation said the Chief Justice holds a public office and the statements made are therefore inconsistent with the office he holds and the oath of allegiance to the Constitution.
“The views expressed of protecting an oppressor in the face of denying human rights and freedoms are contrary to the spirit of our Constitution and the moral and principled stance that South Africa’s foreign policy towards Israel is foregrounded upon,” added PAAF.
Staunch Palestinian advocate Mandla Mandela, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, echoed this view, saying the chief justice must retract his statements or resign.
“It is unthinkable that anyone tasked with upholding justice would support apartheid Israel’s occupation, its indiscriminate violence against women, children and the elderly, its imprisonment and maiming of children some as young as 12 and 14 years old, its disdain for the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people, the daily humiliation of Palestinians and the statutory discrimination rendering Palestinians as foreigners in the land of their birth,” said Mandela, the chief of the Mvezo Traditional Council.
“If in all good conscience he stands by the statements attributed to him and he indeed supports apartheid Israel and its gross violation of international law, he should do the honourable thing and step down from his position as the ultimate arbiter of justice in South Africa.”
Pro-Palestinian movement #Africa4Palestine is to lay a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission. The human rights group said it was regrettable that the Chief Justice had publicly entered the Israeli-Palestinian issue on the side of the oppressors.
“We are particularly concerned since there is a current matter in front of the Constitutional Court between COSATU and the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, involving the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The Chief Justice having participated in such an overtly political event hosted by the Jerusalem Post and the Chief Rabbi, when this matter is in front of his court, is considered improper at worst or highly questionable in the very least,” said the organisation in a statement.
The reaction from political parties has been equally vociferous, with the ANC reportedly urging the Speaker of Parliament to have “high-level talks” with Mogoeng regarding his comments.
“The esteemed chief justice entered the arena of political commentary which may make him vulnerable should he have to adjudicate a human rights matter in the future. He also openly supported the actions of the State of Israel, actions condemned by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on numerous occasions and contemptuous behaviour towards the human rights of the people of Palestine,” said ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe.
The EFF reiterated the call on the judge to retract his position “and subdue himself to the collective wisdom and call by the oppressed people of Palestine”.
However, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), known for its pro-Zionist stance, called on South Africans to unite behind Mogoeng. ACDP leader Rev Kenneth Meshoe said deep religious beliefs and links with the Holy Land are “undermined by those with a radical anti-Israel agenda bordering on anti-Semitism”.
Meshoe has rejected the ANC’s criticism of Mogoeng as baseless and believes it is an attack on his constitutional rights of freedom, religion and freedom of expression.
Religious organisations have also weighed into the matter with the Jamiatul Ulama SA (JUSA) calling into question the chief justice’s commitment to South Africa’s foreign policy.
JUSA secretary-general Ebrahim Bham said: “We call upon Chief Justice Mogoeng to walk back his remarks and instead speak against the discrimination and oppression of the Palestinian people, to whom we owe solidarity for the dehumanising injustices and excesses they endure every day for over seven decades.”
The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) said it fears that Mogoeng is compromised, but said it hopes the justice will withdraw his comments.
“We call upon his respected office to issue an apology to the millions of Palestinian refugees who are denied the right of return to their homeland and stripped from their honour, dignity, and access to justice. We take tremendous pride in the strong South African Civil Society and Palestinian solidarity movements, who along with the ANC ruling party stand resolute in their support for Palestine. The words of Madiba remains an inspiration for all Palestinians and those in the Palestinian solidarity movements, “our freedom is incomplete until Palestine is free!””