OPINION | Mogoeng Mogoeng's criticism of SA policy on Israel ignores several facts

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
Darren Stewart

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, even as the top jurist in our country, has a right to his opinion - but, as the American politician and academic Daniel Moynihan once said, he simply does not have the right to his own facts, writes Dr Wesley Seale

In a recent webinar shared with Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein for the The Jerusalem Post, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng made a number of startling claims that are simply not based on facts. The Israeli newspaper was only too happy to repeat these mistruths. 

Firstly, the Chief Justice bases his support for modern-day Israel on his reading of the Bible. Yet the mere fact that Israelis refer to themselves as such, and not as Israelites, as in the scriptures, should have indicated to the Chief Justice that there is a vast difference between the Kingdom of Israel, as found in biblical times, and the modern State of Israel. 

Another obvious difference is the geographical limitations of the Kingdom of Israel compared to the modern State of Israel. The Kingdom of Israel, dated at this stage from approximately the ninth century before common era, would have been the northern parts of the Dead Sea, some parts east of the Jordan, reaching to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and the southern parts of modern day Lebanon, including parts of the Golan Heights. These are not the borders of present-day Israel.

Historical and theological considerations

Significantly, Jerusalem was never part of the Kingdom of Israel, for whose peace the Chief Justice prays. Jerusalem was part of the Kingdom of Judah and, indeed, if the argument is made that Israel today comprises the older Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, then surely the country should be called the State of Israel and Judah. But it cannot. For the same reason that the modern State of Israel, despite its over 70 years of existence, cannot begin to rebuild the Temple!

These are all historical and theological considerations any self-respecting preacher would interrogate and the list, indicating that the Kingdom of Israel and the State of Israel are not the same entity, is endless. The fact remains, there is no theological justification for the State of Israel. 

Secondly, the Chief Justice identifies that the largest challenge in South Africa today is the fact that the African majority are landless. Sadly, in his entire input, on the Post's webinar, he completely ignores the people who are landless and stateless in the Middle East, the Palestinians, whose land it rightfully is.  

To argue that the land once belonged to the Jews and, therefore, they should have it will not only cause confusion among jewry because they would have to prove that they are a descendant of the 11 sons of Jacob, but it will also lead us to ask how far back we must go in South Africa to ask who the land really belongs to.

The fact remains that, in 1948, when the State of Israel was unilaterally established by the British as a political solution to the Jewish question, Palestinians were living on that land. It is a fact that the land has been known historically as the land of Palestine or Peleset for at least the last 3 000 years. All facts ignored by the Chief Justice.

Chief Justice Mogoeng criticises his own government for having a "lopsided" approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while completely ignoring the fact that, as he speaks, Netanyahu's government is planning to annex Palestinian territory in the West Bank completely in violation of international law. No self-respecting jurist would disregard this. 

When Arabs, whether Christian or Muslim, are treated as second-class citizens in Israel, is this not reason to call it an apartheid state and deserving of condemnation in the highest form?

Call for end to diplomatic relations 

To their discontent, many Palestinian activists have called for the end to diplomatic relations between South Africa and the apartheid Israel state, but it has yet to happen. The Chief Justice ignores this fact. South Africa continues to enjoy diplomatic and healthy trade relations with Israel.

The Chief Justice suggests boycott and disinvestment are not the policies of South Africa's government, even though the ruling party has strongly been advocating it.

Finally, if our former colonisers continued today to abuse human rights and ignore international law as Israel does today, then South Africa would be the first to advocate for action against our former colonisers. South Africa's foreign policy has been consistent in condemnation of all powers, not only Israel, who misuse their power in the world to inflict unjust and oppressive action against other countries or peoples.

The old adage reminds us that the first casualty in war is always the truth. The Chief Justice would, therefore, do well to promote two cardinal and, dare we suggest, Christian virtues, which are truth and justice. Are these not virtues at the heart of our judicial system in South Africa?

One, therefore, is compelled to ask how fellow jurists can serve alongside and under a man who has such blatant disregard for truth and justice. Because, before we can call for peace in the Middle East, truth and justice must first prevail.

 Dr Wesley Seale is a political and social commentator on international affairs. He has lectured at the University of the Western Cape and Rhodes University.

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