Africa4Palestine has shot back at Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s bid to overturn the Judicial Conduct Committee’s (JCC’s) recent findings against him over his pro-Israel comments last year, insisting they are spot on.
In March, the JCC ordered Mogoeng to apologise for his comments after finding he had become involved in political controversy and was in breach of the judicial code of conduct.
In response, Mogoeng has now lodged an appeal – set to be heard next month – in which he contends Judge Phineas Mojapelo, who penned the 67-page ruling, “failed to deal with the constitutional right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion”.
But now, Africa4Palestine – one of the three complainants in the matter – has fired back that while the code “obviously limits freedom of expression”, it does not limit freedom of religion, belief, thought or opinion.
“It limits only what a judge may say in public about political controversies. It has nothing to do with religious or other beliefs,” the organisation argued in a submission lodged with the JCC this week.
The complaint against Mogoeng emanates from a webinar hosted by Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post, which he attended last year.
During the webinar, he was asked to comment on the diplomatic relationship between South Africa and Israel and whether he agreed with the former’s foreign policy in relation to the other.
In responding, he said: “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.”
But Africa4Palestine was this week adamant its complaint was not religious in nature.
“It is true that we took issue with his use of the language of ‘attracting curses’ upon our nation [which happens to come from Genesis 12:1-4], but only because those are the words he chose to convey the political message that South Africa’s foreign policy towards Israel was wrong. If he had used other, non-biblical words, our complaint would have been the same,” it said.
In its submission, the organisation said activists and lobbyists on either side of a political controversy “crave to have their cause endorsed by people of high repute and public standing”.
“Judges are sought-after, as judicial office implies independence, impartiality, jurisprudential expertise, forensic skill and diligence and appreciation for justice. It follows that, to have one’s political cause endorsed by a country’s chief justice, is the ultimate coup,” it said.
“By prohibiting extrajudicial involvement in political controversies, the code aims to protect judges and the judiciary from being exploited in this manner.”