The South African Federation of Trade Unions condemns the remarks reported to have been made by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in a webinar on 23 June in which he expressed support for the state of Israel, guided by his Christian beliefs and biblical texts.
The Jerusalem Post reported that he lamented South Africa’s adoption of a lopsided attitude towards the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and said it would have greater influence if it displayed a more balanced approach.
Quoting from the bible, he said that: “I am under an obligation as a Christian to love Israel, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, which actually means the peace of Israel. 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”.
Mogoeng’s comments display a breathtaking ignorance of the history of Israel, which for 72 years has systematically persecuted and stolen the land and resources of the people of Palestine. It has inflicted brutal ethnic cleansing, massacres, detention without trial including of children, torture and the denial of all basic human rights. Gaza is a prison regularly bombed, where peaceful protesters are massacred by snipers.
These atrocities have been condemned time after time not just by the South African government but the United Nations and virtually every country in the world as crimes against humanity and as the imposition of an apartheid system of oppression.
Now the Israeli government and its paymaster, the USA, are planning to take this process to its final and tragic conclusion – annexation – to crush the Palestine people’s struggle to achieve an independent state and to condemn its people to perpetual slavery.
In defiance of the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is forging ahead with a plan to annex Palestinian areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and create a ‘homeland’, consisting of small, unconnected enclaves scattered throughout the West Bank and Gaza, plus an area of mostly desert, which is supposed to compensate for the loss to Israel of about 30% of the West Bank.
This ‘bantustan’ will not be allowed to have an army and Israel will control critical areas such as trade, immigration, and security. The new plan will further extend and legitimise illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank and Palestinians will have no political rights at all in Israel.
It is 14 years since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the construction of Israel’s apartheid wall and its settlements, land confiscation, separate roads, permit systems and movement restrictions in the occupied Palestinian West Bank – are illegal under international law.
Annexation of land is also prohibited by article 2(4) of the UN Charter and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The designation of practices of apartheid as a crime against humanity are no longer limited to South Africa, but now also have international application in terms of article 7(1)(j) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Palestine is a member of the ICC, which is presently examining whether to prosecute Israeli leaders for genocide in terms of article 6, crimes against humanity in terms of article 7 and/or war crimes in terms of article 8.
Yet the leader of South African Constitutional Court – whose mandate is to protect the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and to defend justice, human rights and International law – wants South Africa to support Israel’s flagrant flouting of all these international rulings!
No less breathtaking is Mogoeng’s ignorance of the history of South Africa’s relationship with Israel. in an attack on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel movement he says: “Have we cut diplomatic ties with our colonisers?… Have we disinvested from our former colonisers and those responsible for untold suffering in South Africa and Africa? Did Israel take away our land or the land of Africa, did Israel take our mineral wealth?”
The reality is that Israel was apartheid South Africa’s strongest ally in the oppression and exploitation of the Black majority. It was the only country in the world that recognised the homelands as ‘independent states’. The two regimes worked hand-in-hand like no other two countries on joint military strategies, arms development, and the building of the nuclear bomb. They worked together to evade sanctions.
SAFTU fully agrees with Professor Ziyad Motala’s open letter to Mogoeng: “It is astonishing that you absolve Israel from any and all blame with respect to protecting and fortifying apartheid. And you give Israel a pass based on an odious reading of scripture. For the record, Israel is deeply culpable in the support and fortifying of the apartheid state and the brutalisation of the Black majority.”
Yet South Africa’s Chief Justice is now even publicly questioning and rebuking his own government’s foreign policy statements condemning Israeli policies.
Such remarks from any public figure would be alarming but it particularly frightening that they should come from a senior judge who is supposed to base his rulings on law, human rights and evidence. Even though he claims to be speaking purely in a personal capacity, his comments raise fears of his impartiality as a leader of a key national institution.
He makes assertions about Israel, based not on any evidence but on quotes from ancient texts written 2000 or more years ago which have absolutely nothing to with Israel today, and then use these texts to condone violations of every principle that he and his court are mandated to protect.
This is especially concerning given that the ConCourt will have to rule on cases including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign versus the Labia Theatre and the SAHRC and the Jewish Board of Deputies versus Cosatu and Bongani Masuku around the issue of ‘antisemitism’.
SAFTU is uncompromisingly opposed to antisemitism, attacks on Jewish people or the people of Israel, and to all forms of racism. There is clear evidence however that the Israeli regime is deliberately trying to conflate antisemitism with criticism of the Israeli state and government.
This has led in the UK to the outrageous decision by Labour Party leader Keir Starmer to sack a shadow minister for supporting a social media post attacking the collaboration between Israeli police in training US police forces, on the grounds that this criticism amounted to ‘antisemitism’.
This once progressive workers’ party has now effectively gagged its members from speaking out against Israeli terrorism at the very time when the Palestine people face the worst ever attack on their nation, their rights and their lives.
SAFTU backs the move by Africa4Palestine to launch a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission over Mogoeng’s remarks. We renew our call for workers and civil society South Africa and all over the world to mobilise a massive campaign to stop Israel’s catastrophe annexation plans.
Trade unions around the world must intensify the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, until it complies with international law, and grants the Palestine people their right an independent sovereign state.
In particular we call on unions to:
- Stop handling goods imported from or exported to Israel
- Disinvest trade union pension and other funds from Israel bonds and banks and companies complicit in Israel’s occupation and human rights violations
- Dissociate from Israeli trade unions complicit in the occupation of Palestine
- Support the call for a military embargo on Israel
- Boycott Israeli products
SAFTU also demands that the South African government condemns Mogoeng’s statements, cuts all diplomatic ties with Israel, refuses to do business with Israeli companies and bans the import of goods and services from the Israeli apartheid state.
Solidarity with the oppressed people of Palestine!
Workers of the world unite!