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Israel donates emergency kits to Cape Winelands

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Fifty-eight specialised Israeli emergency medical kits were donated this past week by the Israeli embassy in collaboration with the South African Zionist Federation Cape Council (SAZFCC) to the Western Cape Association for Persons with Disabilities.

The embassy’s chargé d’affaires, Hila Rose Friedman, spoke about the Hebrew term tikkun olam (repairing the world), and how this value of helping those most in need is a cornerstone of the embassy’s mission.

“When the Cape Winelands District Municipality suggested we donate to the Association for Persons with Disabilities, it was as if all the pieces of this project suddenly fit together. Israel is a world leader in addressing projects that specifically focus on innovation that improves the lives of the physically disabled.”

The project was facilitated by Chaya Singer, the executive director of the SAZFCC, and Western Cape Agriculture Minister Dr Ivan Meyer, the executive mayor of the Cape Winelands District Municipality and federal chairperson of the Democratic Alliance.

Said Singer, “We thank Minister Ivan Meyer and the Cape Winelands District Municipality for facilitating this opportunity for the SAZF to contribute meaningfully. We look forward to further collaboration, and are confident that partnership between South Africa and Israel in business and technology will assist in addressing our triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality”.

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Jeweller’s senseless murder leaves community reeling

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The hearts of a Johannesburg family have been ripped apart after the senseless murder this week of well-known jeweller Mark Kopelowitz, who was shot in cold blood during an armed robbery outside his store.

Kopelowitz’s tragic death on Monday, 11 October, has sent shock waves through the community. Hundreds of people are struggling to come to terms with the untimely passing of this much-loved father of four who “lived for his family”.

“He was my everything, the absolute love of my life,” said his devastated wife, Linda, who told the SA Jewish Report she was “battling to make sense of it all”.

“I cannot believe it. I’m still waiting for him to come home,” she said.

The couple were childhood sweethearts and soulmates from the moment they met in their teens. “We went out for ten years and have been happily married for 25. How am I going to get through this?” asked Linda, who said their young son and three older daughters, one of whom writes her matric finals in two weeks, were heartbroken.

When Kopelowitz, 54, left home on that fateful Monday morning he was filled with renewed optimism about work. Earlier that morning after attending shul, he and his son, Cole, 13, made coffee for all the congregants present at the minyan. The third wave of the pandemic was over, and retail business was picking up. Tragically, Kopelowitz arrived at his Kays Family Jewellers in Centurion Mall while the armed robbery was in progress. He was fatally shot while robbers were fleeing the shop with stolen goods.

Linda received an urgent and dreaded phone call from Michael Phillips, Kopelowitz’s cousin, who was there to meet him at the store. The rest is a blur as Linda frantically hurried to be by her husband’s side.

“I got there after they had already covered his body. It was a crime scene,” she said in disbelief.

Police arrested two suspects that night in Hillbrow in connection with the robbery, and are on the hunt for a further four suspects who are still at large.

As news of Kopelowitz’ passing rippled through the community, heartfelt tributes come pouring in from close friends and family who described Mark as a “true mensch”.

He was a devoted and committed son, husband, father, and brother, described by all who knew him as “thoughtful, kind, caring, and generous to a fault”, someone who would literally give the shirt off his back.

The family are stalwarts of the Linksfield Senderwood Hebrew Congregation, with just about the entire shul present at Tuesday’s funeral. Rabbi Levi Avtzon described the family as “royalty in the community”, being one of the oldest members of the shul.

A religious and observant man, Kopelowitz attended morning and evening prayers with his son every day, and the two had recently started wearing black hats.

“Every one of us standing here felt like somebody had stuck a hand into our hearts and removed a part of it,” said Avtzon, describing Kopelowitz as “one of a kind in so many ways”.

He recalled a day when Kopelowitz stripped off his clothes to hand to a beggar who was without trousers and shoes.

“In good Mark style, he doesn’t give him money, he takes off his pants, takes off his shoes, hands it to the beggar and goes home early without pants. And it happened more than once,” he said.

There were no half measures with him, said the rabbi.

“I have never seen a father so obsessed with his kids. Each night he would come home, talk to each one of them individually, lie down with them, ask them how their day was. His biggest dream was to have naches from his children.”

Addressing Linda, he said, “He was obsessed with you, and you were obsessed with him. Everybody knew it, it was no secret, and he did whatever he could to bring joy to his family.”

To the four Kopelowitz children, Amber, Ruby, Aurah, and Cole, he said, “The biggest way to honour your father is by living life to the fullest. I can only imagine Mark saying, ‘Please don’t sacrifice your happiness and dreams for me.’”

Kopelowitz was born and raised in Witbank. He matriculated from King David Linksfield, and attended the University of the Witwatersrand, where he completed his LLB degree.

“He was a qualified lawyer, but business was his passion,” said Linda.

According to friends, Kopelowitz was a natural entrepreneur and retailer. He sold jewellery in flea markets in his early twenties before going on to make a name for himself in the mainstream retail sector as MK Jewellers, with a handful of stores in upmarket shopping malls.

Friends this week said Kopelowitz had a great sense of humour and was a sociable person who was exceptionally goal driven and ambitious. He loved beautiful things like décor, spending time with his family, and hiking when time allowed.

His two older sisters, Maxine Jaffit and Robyn Sher, said their brother was “a deep thinker who was the embodiment of compassion and kindness”.

“Mark loved business and always wanted to do well. He was an extremely hard worker and never stopped trying. He did everything for us,” said Linda.

Police said the arrested suspects were found in possession of the vehicle which was allegedly used to flee the scene of the robbery. Both suspects are expected to appear in court shortly.

The police are appealing to the public to come forward with any information that can assist with the investigation on the Crime Stop line 08600 10 111.

CAP update

Subsequent to the murder on 11 October of Mark Kopelowitz during a robbery of a jewellery store in Centurion he owned, the SAPS Gauteng Provincial Head Office Serious and Violent Crimes Unit (PHO SVC), mobilised a multi-dimensional team, including CAP security departments, to collect information and assist in identifying the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.

While these operations are ongoing, CAP can report that team of which it is a part has been responsible for apprehending four suspects believed to be involved in Mark’s murder. Two firearms have also been recovered with other exhibits used in the commission of the crime. Additional suspects are being traced. CAP will not stop until all those responsible are located and brought to justice.

The arrests were all processed by the PHO SVC team, and CAP’s legal division will be following through on the prosecution of these suspects. While these acts will never compensate for this loss, we are hopeful that they bring some closure to Mark’s family, and pray for them to find solace and peace.

Baruch Dayan Haemet

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Desai “dismissive and unapologetic” about breaching code

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The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) this week called for former High Court Judge Siraj Desai to be held accountable for contravening the judicial code of conduct for his anti-Israel views and support of terror organisation Hamas.

“As a citizen, he has every right to be an ardent pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist advocate,” the SAZF said in its replying affidavit submitted on Tuesday, 12 October, to the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC). “As a judicial officer, he is constrained by the code, yet he plainly continues to conduct himself without restraint in advocating against Israel and in support of Palestinian causes.”

In the affidavit, the SAZF again accuses Desai of continuing to politicise the judiciary with inflammatory comments that run contrary to the judicial code of conduct. By allegedly doing so, the organisation accuses Desai of undermining the separation of powers between government and the judiciary.

The JCC is part of the Judicial Services Commission which is responsible for dealing with complaints against judges.

The matter goes back to July, when the SAZF lodged a complaint with the JCC accusing Desai of action and conduct “entirely unbecoming of a judicial officer”. The SAZF charged that Desai had, over many years, breached the code of judicial conduct, and accused him of being a politicised judge. It also questioned his recent appointment as legal services ombudsman in which his role is to safeguard the integrity of the legal profession.

For many years, Desai has been an active anti-Israel lobbyist, and has openly shown support for pro-Palestine activities and lobby groups including the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Desai lashed back in a 24-page replying affidavit in which he vehemently denied the allegations calling some of them “factually incorrect” and “based on hearsay evidence”. He said the complaint “was without merit”, and requested its dismissal.

Desai submitted that his response must be considered in the context of the following principles, to which he subscribes and which are relevant to this complaint.

“First, silence by judges in the face of injustice and violations of basic human rights, particularly given the history of South Africa, is inconsistent with judicial office,” he wrote.

“Judicial officers, therefore, have a particular duty to confront injustice, promote equality for all under the law, and condemn racism in all its forms.

“Second, judges don’t exist in isolation. They don’t perform their functions in a cloistered monastery isolated from society. They are members of the community with their own beliefs, opinions, and sympathies.”

Quoting the Constitutional Court, his response said “absolute neutrality” was something of a chimera in the judicial context because “judges are human. They are unavoidably the product of their own life experience, and the perspective thus derived inevitably and distinctively informs each judge’s performance of his or her judicial duties.”

In this week’s response, Professor Anthony Arkin on behalf of the SAZF, said it was clear from Desai’s reply that he didn’t deny his conduct and the events upon which the complaint was based, accusing Desai of adopting a “somewhat insouciant and dismissive attitude towards the gravity of his violations of the code”.

The affidavit said Desai relied “heavily on background descriptions of his character and pro-human-rights work” but said that the complaint was about his conduct. All the background information amounted to “an attempt to deflect the focus from conduct that is a clear contravention of both the underlying precepts and provisions of the code”.

The response said Desai was “utterly unapologetic in his disregard for the limitations placed upon him by the code”, and accused Desai of being “rather quite brazen” in trying to justify it on human-rights grounds, “which is again an evasion of the issues at hand”.

The response said Desai’s conduct and stance was “incompatible” with the position of the law, as noted by Judge Phineas Mojapelo in the matter between Africa4Palestine and Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

In that matter, Judge Mojapelo noted, “The rule is clear: South African judges are prohibited from belonging to political parties; and they are not to be involved in political controversies [debates/disputations], whether linked to political parties or not. Judges are to stay out of politics.”

The SAZF’s affidavit accused Desai of adopting a partisan view of the conflict in the Middle East, and accused him of selectively citing from the contents of the Goldstone Report by failing to mention that the report concluded that both sides of the conflict were guilty.

It said Desai’s failure to mention any blameworthy conduct by Palestinian armed groups again demonstrated that plainly, he was a partisan advocate who supported one party in the conflict.

In a statement this week, the SAZF said, “An officer of the South African court shouldn’t support an anti-Jewish extremist organisation, Hamas.

“For example, last year, during an interview with an Iranian YouTuber, Desai made inappropriate statements likening Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, an acknowledged violator of human rights, to former President Nelson Mandela. This comparison between the champion of peace, who led the struggle for the fall of apartheid, with a regime that commits gross human-rights abuses, is offensive to South African history and calls into question the moral judgement of Desai.”

The SAZF said that during the same interview, Judge Desai undermined South African foreign policy by referring to the United States, a major trade partner and supporter of our country, as a “Great Satan”.

“This is a clear violation of the code of conduct for the judiciary and the separation of powers inherent in our Constitution. Instead of apologising for these utterances, Judge Desai subsequently and unapologetically reiterated both stances at a political event in Cape Town a few weeks ago,” the statement said.

“In spite of his long-standing links to organisations such as BDS, in 2015, Judge Desai presided over a case brought by BDS activists rather than recusing himself on the basis of conflict of interest.”

The SAZF accused Desai in 2018 of entertaining Palestinian extremist group Hamas during its trip to South Africa.

“Hamas is a violent organisation whose founding charter calls for Jewish genocide and the total destruction of Israel. Using the prestige of the judicial office to promote publicly an extremist organisation is clearly contrary to the precepts underlying the judicial code of conduct, and shows an open hostility towards the Jewish community and the rights of South African minorities,” the statement said.

The SAZF said it didn’t bring this complaint to the Judicial Complaints Commission lightly, and didn’t aim to curtail freedom of expression.

“The SAZF is on record as defending the rights of judges to express their views within the ambit of the judicial code, especially when balanced fairly in the interests of justice. However, with the appointment of Judge Siraj Desai as legal services ombudsman and in the interests of justice and the reputation of the legal profession, it’s essential to hold Judge Desai accountable for his actions and violations of the code of judicial conduct which is unacceptable from a judicial officer.”

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Mogoeng may be dogged by Israel question into retirement

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Although Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s decade-long tenure was filled with ups and downs, his comments in support of Israel last year may be the thing that South Africans remember the most.

As he retired this week, the saga remained unresolved. Will he still have to deal with the Israel issue or will it end as he leaves office? Furthermore, where does it leave Israel supporters in South Africa?

Mogoeng was taken to task for comments he made during a Jerusalem Post webinar with Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein in June 2020, and later at a prayer meeting when he refused to apologise for what he had said.

Africa4Palestine, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions South Africa (BDS SA) coalition, and the Women’s Cultural Group laid complaints against him, saying he had flouted rules regarding judicial ethics. The matter was adjudicated by Judge Phineas Mojapelo.

Among other points, the chief justice said in the webinar that, “We are denying ourselves the opportunity of being a game changer in the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The forgiveness that was displayed by President Mandela is an asset that we must use around the world.”

But in March 2021, the Judicial Conduct Committee directed Mogoeng to apologise unconditionally for the statements he made about Israel. He chose to appeal the ruling. That was at the beginning of April 2021, and was the last public announcement made on the issue.

On 11 October 2021, Africa4Palestine released a media statement saying that the chief justice was leaving his office “in disgrace”, with South Africa’s Judicial Services Commission (JSC) failing to resolve his appeal. “The JSC, by its delays, has essentially allowed the chief justice to undermine its own ruling by not settling the matter before the chief justice’s term came to an end,” it said.

Nicole Fritz, the founder and chief executive of Freedom Under Law, explains that “the complaints relating to Chief Justice Mogoeng’s comments about Israel don’t fall away just because he has retired. We have seen a number of complaints processes continue irrespective of retired justices, because what is sought to be disciplined is conduct that took place while they were judges. Often there is a sanction directed towards the individual judge, but also it’s important that the disciplining process be used to educate the public and other members of the judiciary as to what is permitted when one is holding judicial office.”

As for whether the final finding will affect those wishing to express support for Israel in South Africa, “Quite honestly I don’t think it will,” she says. “It wasn’t so much that the expression of support was for Israel per se, it was that as head of the judiciary, he was straying into territory that would make it difficult to see a unified government response from South Africa.

“I think the concern was what he as head of one arm of the government was signalling as to South Africa’s official position, and perhaps suggesting that it wasn’t a coherent view,” says Fritz. “But more concerning, there was fear that his views would create the perception that he would be incapable of determining a dispute that related to Israel in a way that was impartial. So, I think the ruling might chill any comments from any future chief justice regarding Israel, and it should. But I don’t think it will serve to chill anyone else’s expressions of support for Israel.”

Hugh Corder, professor emeritus of public law at the University of Cape Town, told the SA Jewish Report that judges’ service was rather peculiar – they remain on full judicial salary for life, so are regarded as being subject to the judicial code of conduct as a consequence. “Thus, unless some other arrangement has been made, Mogoeng won’t be able to escape the consequences of any of his statements which have affected his standing and reputation, whether they be on Israel/Palestine or the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Advocate Mark Oppenheimer says Mogoeng’s Israel issue could fade into oblivion if no one pushes for it to be resolved. But with organisations agitating for a conclusion, this is unlikely to happen. “He’s still bound by the contents of the Judicial Services Conduct Act. In addition, retired judges can still be called back for service. Of course, we must bear in mind that this is similar to the complaint being made against retired Judge Siraj Desai [by the South African Zionist Federation]. These cases may affect each other.”

He says it’s important to compare the utterances of Desai and Mogoeng. “Desai had a direct meeting with Hamas, which is regarded as a terrorist group. And he called America the “Great Satan”. Mogoeng said he supported both sides and wanted peace. So, if Mogoeng is disciplined and Desai isn’t, we could have a problem.”

Oppenheimer says these judgements tend to take years, and he was surprised at how quickly Mojapelo ruled against Mogoeng. He points out, “If you have an ongoing disciplinary hearing and you leave your employer, that complaint is moot.” Yet he thinks it’s important that the finding is resolved, “so that other judges know what the rules are”.

Judge Dennis Davis told the SA Jewish Report, “That the chief justice has retired doesn’t prevent the JSC from pursuing the complaint. The problem of whether a sitting judge can criticise South African government policy, in particular foreign policy, remains. I doubt whether this extends to comments about Israel per se, although manifestly, as was evident from JSC hearing, support for Israel – in particular current policy – is likely to elicit criticism.”

A prominent advocate speaking on condition of anonymity says, “Mogoeng allowed himself to get sucked into controversy. Maybe he’s heading towards a political career, or even the pulpit. But he won’t be asked to sit as an arbitrator or on commissions of enquiry.”

There are many who will continue to fight for Mogoeng to support Israel publicly. South African Friends of Israel spokesperson Bafana Modise, says, “We salute him for taking a stand for the state of Israel. We salute him for being bold and unapologetic about his beliefs and Biblical truth. Today, Chief Justice Mogoeng – who was doubted and even mocked for his Christian beliefs – has become the longest serving chief justice in our country. In him, South Africa has a true South African friend of Israel. May South Africa continue to echo his sentiments – to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

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