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South Africa: Former Chief Justice Told to Apologize for Pro-Israel Sentiment

South Africa: Former Chief Justice Told to Apologize for Pro-Israel Sentiment
Taken to the woodshed for an “unpardonable sin.”
By Hugh Fitzgerald

Mogoeng Mogoeng is a greatly respected jurist in South Africa, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court until he retired in October 2021. But now he is in hot water, for what is apparently an unpardonable sin. In an online seminar in 2020, he dared to defend Israel, criticizing the South African government for its implacable hostility toward the Jewish state. A report on what he said, and its outrageous consequences, is here: “Ex-South African Justice Must Apologize for Pro-Israel Comments, Panel Rules,” Algemeiner, January 21, 2022:

A South African judicial panel has ordered former chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to issue a public apology within 10 days for comments criticizing his government’s hostile stance towards Israel, dismissing his appeal of a ruling last year.

In a statement released Thursday, the Judicial Conduct Appeals Committee directed Mogoeng to issue an “unconditional apology for becoming involved in political controversy,” over comments made at a 2020 online seminar.

Mogoeng Mogoeng is being asked to apologize not for “becoming involved in political controversy” as the Judicial Conduct Appeals Committee pretends, but for being “involved” and taking the wrong side in daring to defend Israel. Had he instead said that he was appalled by the “apartheid state of Israel” and thoroughly approved of the South African government having withdrawn its ambassador from Israel in 2018, he would have been praised to the skies by the late Bishop Tutu, and Nelson Mandela’s anti-Israel grandson, and by the pro-Palestinian claque in the African National Congress. No one would have complained about him; no Judicial Service Commission would have investigated complaints against him; no one would have demanded that he issue a public apology for “becoming involved in political controversy.”

South Africa’s Judicial Service Commission (JSC) — which investigates complaints made against judges — found against Mogoeng in March 2021, when he was still serving as chief justice, for misconduct during the seminar, in which he appeared alongside South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein.

Among other remarks, Mogoeng invoked his Christian faith as a source for his “love” of Israel, and criticized the South African government for maintaining close ties with the country’s former colonizers yet still frequently attacking the Jewish state.

I take Mogoeng Mogoeng to mean that South Africa maintains close ties with Great Britain, its former colonizer, but at the same time attacks the Jewish state, which has done South Africa no harm.

“Did Israel take away our land or the land of Africa? Did Israel take our mineral wealth? We’ve got to move from a position of principle here,” Mogoeng declared at one point during the seminar, which was hosted by the Jerusalem Post.

The questions are purely rhetorical. Israel was never a part – it was founded only in 1948 – of the European colonizers and empire builders who were engaged in the well-known “Scramble For Africa.” It is possible that Mogoeng Mogoeng may also be thinking of the Muslim slaveholders and slave-traffickers, both Arab and Berber, who no longer bring slaves from East Africa as they once did to the Islamic slave markets of the Middle East, but continue to hold black African slaves in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad. In West Africa, too, Arab traders are prominent in the market for conflict diamonds(“our mineral wealth”).

Thursday’s decision by Judges Dumisani Zondi and Nambitha Dambuza found that Mogoeng had been “involved in extra-judicial activities which are incompatible with the confidence in and the impartiality of judges,” citing South Africa’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

Mogoeng Mogoeng is being pilloried, and an attempt is being made to humiliate him by demanding he publicly apologize, in craven Cultural Revolution fashion, for his defense of Israel. I am sure that none of this would have happened to him had he expressed instead an anti-Israel animus. Look at how Bishop Tutu, of late memory, was hailed as a saintly figure despite his decades of spittle-flecked venom directed at the Jewish state.

In a minority opinion, Judge Margaret Victor said she would have set aside the judgement against Mogoeng and upheld his appeal, which invoked his constitutional rights to freedom of religion and expression.

Mogoeng, who served as chief justice until October 2021, has so far refused to apologize, telling a prayer meeting after the committee ruling last year that his comments on Israel were a matter of faith.

Judge Victor was willing to overturn the judgment against Mogoeng in the court below based on his right to free speech and freedom of religion. His Christian faith, he has explained, has led to his “love for Israel”; he is being punished, in essence, for expressing views that he regards as dictated by his faith.

Chief Justice Mogoeng had said nothing in that online seminar that remotely related to any cases before his court, nothing that might have compromised the public’s faith in his judicial opinions. Had there been a case involving Israel, however tangentially, that would of course have been a different thing. He might then have recused himself. But would judges who were hostile to Israel, and expressed their views, be similarly criticized If they failed to recuse themselves? You know the answer to that.

“I respect the law. I will not defy the law,” he said. “But if it does come to the point where I am forced to do the abominable, or I am forced to reject God, then I would rather be without money, be without any position. I will never refuse to obey the Lord.”

“If I get to the point where there is a judgment that says, ‘You must say you hate Israel and the Jews’, I would rather cease to be Chief Justice,” he continued. “If I get to the point where they say, ‘Mogoeng, you must say you hate the Palestinians and Palestine,’ I would rather cease to be Chief Justice than to do it, because my God has instructed me to love and not to hate. I hate evil deeds, I don’t hate anybody.

The complaint against Mogoeng was lodged by the groups Africa4Palestine, the South Africa BDS Coalition, and the Women’s Cultural Group.

Mogoeng Mogoeng is free now to express himself; he’s been retired from the Supreme Court since October 2021. But two judges, Dumisani Zondi and Nambitha Dambuza, on the Judicial Service Commission, have insisted on making Mogoeng apologize publicly for remarks he made while still a judge in 2020. He will not humiliate himself in that fashion. And when he refuses to bend to their will, what will Judges Zondi and Dambuza do? They can’t dismiss him from the Court; he’s already retired. This witch hunt unleashed on a respected judge will only hurt the vindictive army of pro-Palestinians in Africa4Palestine and the BDS Coalition, groups that were the first to complain about Mogoeng. They are trying to persecute and prosecute all those who express any support for Israel. Mogoeng Mogoeng, given his prominence, is at the top of their list. He will stand firm against his would-be tormentors. He’ll be seen by many black Christians in South Africa (in opinion polls, despite Bishop Tutu, despite Mandela’s grandson Zwelivelile who claims that Israel’s “apartheid” is the “worst form of apartheid in the world,” more black Africans in the country express support for Israel than support the Palestinians) as an African Thomas More, and the spectacle of the eminent judge, his head unbowed, who “can do no other,” will be a morality play about freedom of belief and freedom of speech. His persecutors will look bad, while Mogoeng Mogoeng will be seen as what, in fact, he now is: a Daniel come to judgment.

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