OPINION | Mogoeng apology: Criticising Israel is not anti-Christian

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Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
Jabu Kumalo

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng needs to understand that criticising Israel for its human rights violations is not anti-Christian, writes Roshan Dadoo.

In a significant victory for the Palestine solidarity movement, the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) has instructed Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to retract statements that he made on Israel's occupation of Palestine, and apologise unconditionally to the South African BDS Coalition and two other pro-Palestine groups that had submitted complaints to the JCC.

The complaints centred on the statements that the Chief Justice made during a webinar hosted by the right-wing Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post,  in June last year. Mogoeng headlined the event, along with South Africa's Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein, and the discussion was marketed under the theme "Two Chiefs, One Mission".

READ | Mondli Makhanya: Ruling on Mogoeng shows system works

The timing of the event was not coincidental. The webinar was held a day before South Africa was set to raise its objections to Israel's planned annexation of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley at the UN Security Council.

During the webinar, Mogoeng said: "I'm under an obligation as a Christian to love Israel, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, which actually means the peace of Israel. And 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."

Zionist narrative

Mogoeng was asserting a Christian Zionist narrative, where the political state of Israel that is currently occupying Palestine is regarded as Biblical Israel. Anyone praying for Israel will receive God's blessings and prosperity. 

Any criticism of Israel for its occupation and human rights violations against Palestinians is regarded as criticising God's Will, which will incur God's wrath. With South Africa being one of Israel's most vocal critics, Mogoeng was suggesting that the government's position on Israel's occupation of Palestine would "attract unprecedented curses upon our nation".

Justice Mojapelo of the JCC agreed with us that the Chief Justice knowingly criticised the government's position on Palestine. 

Comments concerning the diplomatic relationship between South Africa and Israel, which was "clearly political territory", breached the requirement in the Judicial Service Commission Act of Judges to not get "involved in any political controversy or activity". 

"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," clarified Mojapelo in his comprehensive verdict.

READ | Karyn Maughan: Hard to say I'm sorry: Mogoeng's Israel apology ruling demands he put duty before faith

The JCC were further aggravated by Mogoeng's brazen defiance in the weeks following the webinar.

"I will never, even if 50 million people can march every day for the next 10 years, for me to retract or apologise for what I say, I will not do it," he declared at a prayer meeting on 4 July. The JCC took umbrage at this rebuff to the processes of judicial peer-review and constitutionality that underpin our legal system.

In December, the Chief Justice challenged and undermined another government position. Sounding very much like the reactionary "anti-vax" lobby in the US, he declared that "if there be any (Covid-19) vaccine that is the work of the devil meant to infuse 666 in the lives of the people, meant to corrupt their DNA... may it be destroyed by fire".

In doing so, Mogoeng was dangerously contradicting medical science and the government's position on vaccines.

There can be no doubt that Mogoeng Mogoeng is using his platform as the Chief Justice to promulgate dangerous and extremist views. That he does so in the name of Christianity is shameful. 

Christians throughout the world and here in South Africa such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Reverend Frank Chikane and Reverend Moss Nthla stand firm in their support for the Palestinian people in their struggle against Israel. 

Character assassination campaign 

Frank Chikane was recently subject to a brutal character assassination campaign for his pro-Palestinian views. In response, Chikane said: "What is troubling for me is that there are discriminatory laws in the occupied territories which are similar to and even worse than what we have experienced in South Africa during the racist apartheid system. They are clearly morally unacceptable and reprehensible. For me it is the worst form of apartheid in another name or with no name."  

Mogoeng Mogoeng does not need to be publicly humiliated. Instead he needs to be educated that expressions of Palestine solidarity, or criticising Israel's human rights violations against the Palestinian people, are not anti-Christian. Christian values should not be conflated with support for Israel.

READ | Opinion: Africa's solidarity a vital pillar in fight for Palestinian statehood

The anti-colonial nature of the Palestinian cause and liberation struggle cannot be removed from discussions on Palestine-Israel in South Africa, and discussed only within Biblical and religious parameters. As Tutu, Chikane and even Nthla from the Evangelical Alliance have shown, our own decolonisation and liberation history cannot be separated from the anti-colonial struggle and resistance of the Palestinians. The SA BDS Coalition would welcome the opportunity to engage with the Chief Justice on these issues.

South African churches have, historically, been much more than just religious spaces, and have played an important role in the processes of liberation, decolonisation, democratisation and justice.

However, messages like Mogoeng's -  and also those emerging from the pulpits of Christian Zionist churches today, is one of injustice when it comes to the question of Palestine. The Bible cannot be used to justify Israel's occupation.

However, should the Chief Justice refuse to respect the JCC by issuing an apology, we would welcome the JCC process continuing through a tribunal and ultimately a vote of dismissal from the National Assembly. 

Even though Mogoeng Mogoeng's term of office is due to expire, as with the impeachment motion against former President Trump, the dismissal of the CJ would serve to uphold the legitimacy of the judiciary under our Constitution. 

It would send a strong signal internationally that South Africa will not be bullied into submission on the question of Palestine and that we stand firm against racism, colonialism and apartheid perpetrated by the Israeli state. 

- Roshan Dadoo is the convener of the South African BDS Coalition. Find them on Twitter: @sabdscoalition.

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