Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s comments on the state of Israel during a webinar hosted by The Jerusalem Post, “undoubtedly embarrassed the government, and its international standing in respect of a key foreign policy position”, Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) said on Monday.
Mogoeng recently took part in the webinar along with South Africa’s chief rabbi, Warren Goldstein. The Jerusalem Post reported he lamented South Africa’s adoption of a lopsided attitude toward the Israel-Palestinian conflict and said it would have greater influence if it displayed a more balanced approach.
But now Casac wants Mogoeng to withdraw his remarks and apologise, saying his comments bring the judiciary in South Africa into disrepute.
In a statement issued on Monday, Casac said besides Mogoeng stating that he was speaking as a Christian and not a jurist, he entered the arena of politics “and he has done so in a manner that gives succour to those who deny the Palestinian people basic human rights and dignity”.
“The recent comments by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng pertaining to the legitimacy of the state of Israel as it seeks to unlawfully annex further areas of Palestinian land brings the judiciary in South Africa into disrepute,” Casac’s Lawson Naidoo said. “He has publicly opposed the policy of the South African government with regards to Palestine.”
Public office Naidoo said this was not a matter of denying the Chief Justice his rights as a citizen but the office he holds requires that he respects the Constitution.
“This is his primary responsibility, one that comes with holding high public office.
“If the Chief Justice wishes to comment on issues extraneous to his position as the head of the judiciary, he will be free to do so when is no longer constrained by the responsibilities of that office.”
Mogoeng also received backlash from several other bodies, with one even considering laying a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). On Friday, the EFF called on Mogoeng to withdraw his comments and to “join all progressive voices in an unequivocal condemnation of apartheid Israel”.
“He must realise that Palestine needs people of the world to unite behind them as they fight for self-determination; this is just the thing to do,” the party said.
ANC national spokesperson Pule Mabe said Mogoeng had entered the arena of political commentary, which might make him vulnerable should he adjudicate a human rights matter in future.
Consulting legal advisors Mabe said: “It was rather unfortunate for the Chief Justice to state that the ‘South African government policy was binding upon himself and that he was not seeking to reject it’, but then clearly and openly opposes it as a citizen.”
Human rights organisation Africa4Palestine said it was in the process of consulting with its legal advisors over Mogoeng’s criticism of South Africa’s foreign policy. Africa4Palestine is to lay a complaint with the JSC against Mogoeng.
“It is regrettable that the Chief Justice has publicly entered the Israeli-Palestinian issue on the side of the oppressors – the Israeli regime,” spokesperson Tisetso Magama said in a statement last week.