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Desai ups ante against Israel despite JCC complaint

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In contrast to the thunderous condemnation after former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng spoke about the Middle East, the silence was deafening this week when retired Judge Siraj Desai made similar comments. This is after a complaint was laid a year ago about his conduct with the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC).

Desai was a guest speaker at a “Nakba Day” event in Cape Town on Saturday, 14 May. According to local media, Desai said about the death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, “I find her death and her murder most appalling, and I reject the savagery of her death. But more than that, it gives me pause to rededicate what remains of my life to the struggle of the Palestinian people and the struggle of people all over the world.”

Solidarity movements, political parties, schools, and the public attended the event, with many wearing a keffiyeh or displaying Palestinian flags. Palestine Solidarity Campaign Chairperson Martin Jansen criticised the African National Congress (ANC) government for expressing outward support for Palestinians while still maintaining ties with Israel. He asked political parties to adopt boycott, divestment, sanctions policies and legislation against Israel.

“In terms of section 12 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge mustn’t get involved in a political controversy,” says advocate Mark Oppenheimer. “Judge Desai’s appearance at this rally is controversial on a few grounds. First, it seems to be an open question at the moment as to how journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed – whether it was by Israeli troops or by Palestinian combatants. So pronouncing on that is itself controversial.

“Second, the organisers of the rally criticise the ANC government for its continued relations with Israel,” says Oppenheimer. “That appears to waive the territory of the executive domain, and it’s that point that Chief Justice Mogoeng was censured for. It would appear that Judge Desai’s involvement in this cause may very well be a controversy of that nature.”

South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) spokesperson Rolene Marks says, “Siraj Desai continues the politicisation of his judicial office in spite of an ongoing review of his conduct by the JCC. Judge Desai’s support of extremist groups is well known, including the likes of Hamas and rogue regimes, such as Iran. He has also continued to double down his position even after a complaint was filed. This shows little respect for the judicial process. The SAZF calls on the JCC to conclude its deliberations speedily so as not to be seen as biased, depending on the political issue at play.”

Almost a year ago, the SAZF lodged a complaint against Desai with the JCC, saying Desai’s actions and conduct over many years plainly breached the code of judicial conduct and was “entirely unbecoming of a judicial officer”.

At the time, Desai said through his spokesperson, Professor Usuf Chikte, that he was “unapologetic in his stance in condemnation of apartheid Israel”.

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