The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) warmly welcomes the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC), which in a 67-page report, called on Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to apologise for his controversial, backward and reactionary comments about apartheid Israel. Three organisations – the South African BDS Coalition, Africa4Palestine and the Women’s Cultural Group – had complained, correctly, about Mogoeng’s irrational remarks last June in a bizarre Jerusalem Post webinar.
It is important the judge’s words be considered carefully, because they are a political attack on our socio-economic solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have suffered yet more oppression by Israel during the Trump regime’s promotion of Benyamin Netanyahu’s worst instincts. The South African government has very slowly begun to move in the political direction that would express that solidarity, by withdrawing our ambassador following Israel’s 2018 attacks on the people of Gaza. However, economic ties between South Africa and Israel remain far too strong, in spite of the corrupt Netanyahu regime’s direct oppression and illegitimate occupation of millions of people’s homeland.
To resist that oppression, the main civil society organisations in Palestine requested in 2005 that the world adopt a Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) stance against the Israeli government. Similarly, South Africa was freed when we in civil society and our exiled liberation movements began the modern BDS movement, including when Chief Albert Luthuli and Martin Luther King Jr teamed up in the 1960s to ask the United Nations and all world governments for anti-apartheid sanctions.
By 1985, when PW Botha gave his Rubicon Speech refusing democracy, enough anti-apartheid sanctions were in place that a Western bank loan cut-off sparked a financial crisis. That in turn led influential white English-speaking capitalists to break from the Pretoria Regime, a weakness that soon compelled the Afrikaner establishment to replace Botha with FW de Klerk. Reform leading to 1994’s election – with one-person, one-vote in a unitary state – finally got underway in 1989. All along, BDS pressure was a critical factor, combined with internal protest and other external pressures, ultimately compelling the National Party to accede to the Mass Democratic Movement and liberation forces. This, no one can disagree with, it is our history of liberation from apartheid.
That is why Judge Mogoeng appears so politically naïve and backward: he has not even begun to understand why BDS strategies and tactics are a peaceful way to address Zionist oppression of Palestinians. He asked sarcastically, last June during the Jerusalem Post webinar:
“Have we cut diplomatic ties with our colonizers? Have we disinvested from our former colonizers 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? We would do well to reflect on the objectivity involved in adopting a particular attitude towards a particular country that has not taken as much and unjustly from South Africa and Africa as other nations that we consider it to be an honor to have diplomatic relations with us.”
Now of course, the former colonial powers – and others too – oppress Africa and South Africa, through brutal economic manipulation and through political influence, as well as in their ecocidal policies of climate destruction. Of course, Judge Mogoeng has the right to point out this untold suffering. But he is displaying ignorance by failing to address the core solidaristic rationale for the BDS strategy, nor has he shown that a BDS of the United States or Europe has been called for by oppressed people there (and if that happens, we will be at the head of the line to offer solidarity.)
That means even though the JCC did not point out these obvious political points, it was procedurally correct to say, “Whether we like it or not, the Chief Justice is not like any other citizen of South Africa. He is the head of the judiciary and is subject to the restraints of that office, including the ethical rules which govern the conduct of each and every single judge. He is subject to those restraints of his office in his official and private capacity.”
SAFTU respects the right of all citizens to hold and express their views. But the Chief Justice is no ordinary private citizen while still serving in the highest judicial office in our land. SAFTU welcomes the commission’s findings that the comments of Chief Justice Mogoeng were:
- in contravention of the Code: the use or lending of the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge and others;
- in contravention of Article 14 (1) that stipulates that ‘judicial duties to take precedence over other duties and activities, statutory or others’ – read with Note 14(i) of the Code: ‘failure to minimise the risk of conflict with judicial obligations, and involving himself in extrajudicial activities that impinge on a judge’s availability to perform judicial obligations’’
- involving extrajudicial activities which are incompatible with the confidence in the impartiality of the judges, and
- failing to respect the separation of powers, in contravention of the code.
Judge Mogoeng must do the right thing; he must now personally apologise to all of us who were offended by him lending the judicial office’s prestige to advance his private interests.
Those interests appear aligned with Zionist forces, giving the Israeli regime comfort. SAFTU and millions of the citizens of this country and the globe regard Israel as fitting the description of an apartheid state. It is embarrassing to all of us that our highest judicial office makes public comments that are so ill-informed, not recognising that even the United Nations – with the outsized power of the Western pro-Israeli regimes – passed no less than 17 statements against Israel’s oppression of Palestine.
It is scandalous that we have a chief justice who has no respect for and no apparent clue about international solidarity or findings in the world’s highest courts! We are ashamed to call this backward man our chief justice. It is now more than 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.
It is utterly shameful that the Chief Justice of a country that defeated apartheid, with the help of the international community, a mere 27 years ago, shows no regard for the 72 years of struggle against a regime that has systematically stolen the land and persecuted the people of Palestine, in Gaza and the West Bank’s occupied territories. The people of Palestine have suffered continuous murderous bombings, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and shootings.
How does this Chief Justice sleep at night justifying all this human slaughter through a Bible written 2000 years ago? It is as rogue an interpretation of whatever version of Christianity he adheres to, as his surreal comment last December – just as the second Covid-19 wave began to peak – that “If there be any vaccine that is of the devil, meant to infuse triple-six in the lives of people, meant to corrupt their DNA, any such vaccine, Lord God almighty, may it be destroyed by fire, in the name of Jesus.”
To return dignity to the judiciary’s leading job will take time, following such displays of freakish logic: opposing vaccines and promoting Israel. So even though his term is coming to an end, thank goodness, the choice facing the Chief Justice is simply – apologise or resign early, so as to be free to join a political party advocating on behalf of apartheid Israel and its genocidal policy.
Meanwhile we congratulate the Palestine solidarity activists for raising this concern, and we are reenergised for solidarity action. SAFTU reiterates our call on all workers and citizens of the world to:
- Stop handling goods imported from or exported to Israel,
- Divest trade union pension – and other – funds from Israeli bonds and from corporations and banks that are complicit in Israel’s occupation and human rights violations,
- Dissociate from Israeli trade unions which are complicit in the occupation,
- Support the call for a military embargo on Israel,
- Boycott Israeli products.
Free, free Palestine!