Titan clash: Judges head to head with corruptors, ideologues

  • Taking Issue Geoff Sifrin Home
In three countries close to South African Jews - Israel, South Africa and the United States - a monumental fight is raging between defenders of the law and powerful politicians attempting to subvert it.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Feb 16, 2017

Protagonists are public figures holding high office including presidents, judges and political leaders. The effects will ultimately be felt by ordinary people.

South Africans cheered last year when Constitutional Court Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng ruled in a landmark case that President Jacob Zuma failed to uphold the Constitution of the Republic.

He had refused to implement the Public Protector’s instructions to pay compensation for benefits he received from state money spent upgrading his private Nkandla homestead. The chief justice’s finding affirmed that the law applied equally to all, despite the President’s contempt for it, and Zuma had to pay back over R7 million to the state.

In Parliament last week, the Economic Freedom Fighters labelled him a constitutional “delinquent”.

In the United States in the last two months, judges stood firm against their new president, Donald Trump, ruling that his executive order signed immediately after taking office, barring entry to people from seven Muslim-majority countries be put on hold until its constitutionality was properly tested.

Trump’s response was outrage towards the judges, who were doggedly teaching him the limits of his power. He had to abide by their rulings.

In Israel, a battle is raging between proponents of constitutional legality and the settler movement, which succeeded last week in passing in the Knesset the Regularisation Law, driven by Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party.

Dubbed the “Land-Grab Law” by its detractors, it would allow private Palestinian land in the West Bank to be expropriated by Israel to retroactively legalise settlements which were built there illegally. The settlers will not gain ownership of the land but will be allowed to remain.

The law’s illegality is so blatant that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin publicly condemned it, since Israel has not established sovereignty over the West Bank.

This principled stand by Rivlin, who actually supports settlements and reportedly believes in a binational state with equal citizenship among Arabs and Jews as the solution to the conflict, echoed that of Israeli Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, who said he would not defend it before the Supreme Court, which is where it will inevitably land up.

Rivlin said: “Israel has adopted international law [and cannot] apply and enforce its laws on territories that are not under its sovereignty. [Doing so] will cause Israel to be seen as an apartheid state, which it is not.”

The word “apartheid” is usually applied to Israel by rabid Israel-haters such as the BDS movement and similar groups. South African Jews who lived through apartheid are highly sensitive to its use, claiming it is totally inappropriate for Israel. Now, alarmingly, Israel’s president has himself warned the country by reference to this word. The extremists among the settlers don’t seem to care, however.

Legally, the case against the Regularisation Law is clear and the Supreme Court will almost certainly declare it unconstitutional. But extreme rightwing political forces will not buckle so easily, and the settler lobby is threatening to undercut the Supreme Court’s authority by passing a law enabling the Knesset to override the Court in certain cases.

Fortunately, other eminent rightwing figures in the government have said they would oppose this, such as Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon: “We have no other Supreme Court and it must not be harmed.”

What’s in a name? The law’s proponents call it the Regularisation Law; but those who call it the Land-Grab Law have a point. Hopefully, the principled Israelis in positions of power who are defending the country’s commitment to legality, will prevail.


Read Geoff Sifrin’s regular columns on his blog sifrintakingissue.wordpress.com



  1. 5 Choni 19 Feb
    So according to ...
    Sorry, Choni, but you are trolling again. Either make a valid point on what had been written, which would be welcomed, Play the ball, not the man. This is, as you have oft been warned, a platform to give the community a voice. Use it with pleasure. But all 322,000 people who have visited this website know you do not like: (i) Chabad; (ii) Anyone who differs with your personal Zionist understanding; (iii) Anyone living in the diaspora for whatever reason (except for your personal reasons which you feel justify only your family to do); (iv) Israeli Law; (v) Geoff Sifrin; and (vi) Any Jew who doesn't agree with Choni's position. Once again, we must advise you that any comments of any such mature will simply be deleted. You are, of course, most welcome to make any constructive comments as all of our users are free to do. If you do not respect this and continue to use this website for trolling, we will be forced to blacklist you.   Online ED
  2. 4 Choni 20 Feb
    Sifrin's ...

    Sorry, Choni, you're trolling again. Please stop it!   -Online Ed

  3. 3 Choni 21 Feb
    Sorry, I thought I was merely commenting on Sifrin's allegation that the regulation law was illegal. Where was I trolling? 
    When you attack an Opinion writer every week and try to discredit the man, not the topic, you are trolling. To be a commentator, you need to add to the conversation and not attack people to the extent that they choose not to write or comment for fear that the dreaded Choni-troll may bite them. The print paper and website receive regular complaints about your trolling. Often several times a week. Your constant attacks on people will no longer be tolerated. we have made this clear to you over and over. Feel free to make your own point. Do not deny others the right to make theirs. Otherwise, we will have to blacklist you. As things stand, and as you are aware, every comment you make is escalated to a senior level for moderation. Your trolling and our slapping you on the wrists or deleting them probably occupies a good hour of executive time every week. That is unacceptable. From now on, id they appear for moderation on my screen, if you break the rules we have set out so many times for you we will simply delete. Now you have had your fifteen minutes of my time today. Tomorrow, this comment or anything like it will be deleted.  -Online Ed
  4. 2 Choni 21 Feb
    O.K. I'll try my best. Sorry to take up your time.
  5. 1 Adam 21 Feb
    That was a bit of "below the line" tatan clashing just there. We live in our own little underworld down here in our "below the line " world


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