OPINION: Leave Mogoeng Mogoeng & his views on Israel alone
By merely expressing his religious views that do not infringe on on the rights of others nor advocate incitement to cause harm, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has had many an insult hurled at him. According to some, the chief justice should “shut up and focus on judgments”, is a disgrace, ignorant, a complete and utter mess and should step down.
All this for practicing his constitutional right to “criticise the policies of the government and suggest that change may be necessary”, as said in his own words. It is only natural that we disagree with those who hold opinions that may differ from ours, however this does not allow us the right to stick a sock in their mouths.
South Africa’s diverse nature already paints it as a country of pluralities and this rings true for opinions, affiliations (political or not), cultures, religions and much more. Section 7(1) of the Constitution of South Africa provides the Bill of Rights as a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It enshrines the rights of all people in South Africa (including the judiciary) and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. Among these lie the right to freedom of religion, belief and opinion (Section 15), freedom of expression (Section 16) and freedom of association (Section 18). Imagine if we were alienated from such rights as individuals, people would be holding us to their views and not afford us an opportunity to actually share our own.
Mogoeng has received numerous attacks after sharing his personal and religious views on the State of Israel and Jerusalem. Anti-Israeli organisations and critics saw this as an opportunity to earn some publicity by attacking the Chief Justice. Apparently, only their voices should be heard when it comes to Israel and all others should be gagged.
The CJ made it quite clear that he is bound by the policy direction taken by the government of South Africa. He has clearly expressed that his views on Israel are guided by his Christian values and beliefs. Mogoeng’s freedom and ability to express himself must be protected at all times and so must the conveniently ignored statement that South Africa is “denying itself an opportunity to be a gamechanger in the Israel-Palestine situation.”
South Africa has always held the firm position that peace in the Middle East is possible and that “Israel must be recognised as a legitimate and sovereign state and that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinian people.” Those who vehemently reject Israel’s existence are consequently at qualms with this positioning, hence their consistent calls to sanction Israel.
Our call for peace between Israel and Palestine is not a foreign one, rejected or not, and will never be silenced. As such, neither should that of the chief justice. Indeed, South Africa should rather be playing a mediator role in such conflict, which is so far removed from our own shores, much like we do with countless others.
Mogoeng is correct in saying that we have never called for the disinvestment, sanction or boycott of those that continue to cause harm unto others across the world. Instead, we coddle up to them from East to West and employ our own experience of suffering in trying to negotiate mediation.
But somehow, when it comes to Israel and Palestine, we are suddenly told to have a moral high ground and pick sides. There has been no sanctioning or boycotting of Libya for the sale of human beings in the 21st century, or France’s colonial tax on West and Central African countries. The strong campaigns for the freedom of the people of the Western Sahara and West Papua New Guinea are eerily silent and one can only wonder why.
A judge is required to keep an open mind when deciding a matter in a court of law, and this is what Mogoeng has implored us to do as South Africans when it comes to Israel and Palestine. His personal beliefs have never played a role in his decision making as a member of the judiciary, vocal as he may be. He has always provided noble leadership in the highest court of the land. It is very iniquitous to assume that his stance on Israel will influence his ability to judge without fear or favor.
The Middle East conflict is a complex one. Everyone is allowed to have an opinion and furthermore share their views on it. No single person or entity holds all the power to speak on international issues alone, while not affording others a chance to share theirs. But the anti-Israel brigade are trying to create such a platform, by trying to shut other people out of the conversation.
The chief justice is not money and cannot seek to please everyone. The anti-Israel brigade are demonstrating bullying behavior by attempting to take away citizens’ freedom of expression. Well, we are not surprised, they are used to supporting organisations that do not afford people a right to express themselves, such as Hamas. We are not going to allow that in our country. Our citizens are going to express themselves publicly and we shall support them fully without any fear or favour.
Klaas Mokgomole and Mmamalema Molepo are Africans for Peace coordinators.