The Jewish Report Editorial

Between a rock and a hard place

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As we clamber toward the peak of this pandemic, and everyone in the country and community feels the pain of what the coronavirus can do to a population, the country’s eyes have been averted.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Jul 02, 2020

When nothing is more important than saving lives, the news has shifted focus to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng speaking out about Israel.

This learned and deeply respected man has been subjected to a lot of criticism this past week because he opined that South Africa should have been helping to bring about peace in the Middle East, rather than lambasting Israel.

He didn’t just do it on the national news, he did it in a Jerusalem Post webinar alongside South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein last Wednesday night.

The anger this has sparked has been huge. I can’t say whether it’s widespread, but the power behind the ire is great. It includes the country’s ruling party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, and obviously, the anti-Israel lobby. They are all demanding that he apologise and back down. Much of the national media has also taken on this honourable man.

Mogoeng lamented South Africa’s adoption of a “lopsided attitude towards Israel and the Palestinian conflict”. He said the country would have greater influence if it displayed a more balanced approach.

“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,” were his words. He went on to say that South Africa was “denying a wonderful opportunity of being a game-changer in the Israeli-Palestinian situation”.

I absolutely agree with the learned judge, but my voice is irrelevant. However, I can’t categorically say that he was well advised to make this statement now, especially not on an international stage.

I certainly believe he has every right to his opinion and to voice it publicly, but on the eve of the proposed annexation of the West Bank, which has divided Israel and the Jewish world, I’m not sure it was a good idea.

While it’s wonderful to know that he feels this way, and it makes us feel supported at the highest level, I’m not sure voicing it in the way he did, did him or us any favours. It seems that there’s so much to lose right now in him saying this, but little to gain.

He has been called out for bringing the judiciary into disrepute, and for making political statements, which people say isn’t acceptable by the most senior judge. I wonder if the same people would have made so much noise or even opposed the chief justice if he had condemned Israel.

If he had defended China – which has a far worse history of human-rights abuse – would anyone have censured him? Would anyone have said he was bringing the judiciary into disrepute? I doubt it!

It’s simply because this is Israel, and there clearly is a “lopsided” opinion within the country’s leadership towards the Jewish state, no matter what it does.

The impact of this on Mogoeng isn’t likely to be positive.

While he is clearly expressing a Christian point of view – something shared by millions of powerful Christians around the world and in South Africa – it may be seen by the anti-Israel lobby as taking the wrong side. And clearly, the ruling party and some members of the government are set on making him pay for it if he doesn’t do what they are demanding, namely retract his opinion and apologise. As it’s his firm opinion, surely he can’t do that while upholding his integrity?

It puts him in an invidious position, one I wish he didn’t have to face.

I’m sure that as an expert on the Constitution, he would have checked what he could and couldn't say, and he certainly couched his statement in the correct legal context. However, will that be enough to deal with what is for many a blind spot? The anti-Israel lobby refuses to see Israel as anything but evil. It can’t see any good that Israel does for Jews, Palestinians, or the world. And many of them are in powerful positions.

There are hate-speech cases regarding Israel and Jews working their way up to the Constitutional Court, with one already there. What impact will Mogoeng’s statement have on him being allowed to preside over these cases?

This chief justice has proved himself to be an excellent leader of the judiciary. He has done the right thing time and time again. I would hate for this incident to have a negative impact on his career or for it to lead to South Africa losing such a dignified and integrous chief justice.

I have never met him, nor have I had dealings with him, but I wish him well in weathering this horrible situation. He has far more dignity, moral standing, and honesty than so many other leaders in this country. May he overcome this situation so the country can continue to have a judiciary led by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng!

COVID-19

As the number of people in our community and country with the coronavirus grows, we at the SA Jewish Report salute the doctors, nurses, and emergency teams who are putting themselves at risk to save lives. Kol hakavod to you all!

Shabbat Shalom!

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