The African National Congress (ANC) has criticised Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng for “expressing his apparent support for apartheid Israel.”
The governing party was reacting to Mogoeng’s comments during a special webinar with Jerusalem Post published on Tuesday this week.
While emphasising that his comments were in a personal capacity as a citizen and not as Chief justice, Mogoeng appeared to criticise the government’s official policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He said, “As a citizen of our great country, we are denying ourselves a wonderful opportunity of being a game-changer in the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
“We know what it means to be at logger heads, a nation at war with itself. The forgiveness that was demonstrated, the understanding and big heart displayed by President Nelson Mandela and we, the people of South Africa, is an asset we must use around the world to bring peace when there is no peace and to mediate effectively based on rich experience.”
Mogoeng further questioned whether South Africa has “cut diplomatic ties with our colonisers” or not. He was seemingly referring to the government’s decision to downgrade its ties with Israel in 2018.
In a statement issued by spokesperson Pule Mabe late on Thursday, the ANC expressed concern at the Chief Justice’s comments, claiming he “openly supported the actions” of Israel despite the UN Security Council condemning such actions.
“The esteemed Chief Justice entered the arena of political commentary which may make him vulnerable should he have to adjudicate a human rights matter in the future,” Mabe said.
He added that while the ANC respects the judiciary, South Africa is a secular state and officials of the state, including those from the judiciary, “are bound by the Constitution to respect this.”
Mabe said the ANC’s resolutions state that Israel “is an apartheid state.” He emphasised that the ANC supports the human rights of “the oppressed Palestinians, who include Christians of the Holy Land [and] the residents of Jerusalem and Bethlehem who live under Israeli apartheid.”
Speaker urged to have ‘talks’ with Mogoeng
Mabe added, “The Chief Justice has sought to turn the matter of the rights of the people of Palestine into a religious argument, which it is not.
“The Chief Justice is indeed a citizen, but he is the primary protector of the Constitution of SA and if the government were in violation of the Bill of Rights, he and the bench must defend the Constitution above all else and any other consideration.
“For this reason, his disagreement with the policy of the government is of grave concern where the main argument of the policy on Palestine is premised on human rights.
“The ANC respects the Office of the Chief Justice and we urge the Speaker of Parliament to have high level talks with the Chief Justice regarding his political commentary.”
Reacting to the ANC’s statement, constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said Mogoeng’s comments came as the Constitutional Court is due to pass judgement in a hate speech case involving the SA Jewish Board of Deputies.
“When you are a judge – more so when you are Chief Justice – there is a fine line between the laudable engagement in legal settings with legal principles, on the one hand, and making highly controversial political statements on the other. Unfortunately, CJ Mogoeng does not always stay on the right side of that line,” he wrote in a social media post.