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Fury as South African Chief Justice Is Ordered to Apologize for Pro-Israel Comments

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South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng is seen at the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg. Photo: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko.

South Africa’s chief justice has been ordered by a judicial oversight committee to apologize publicly for criticisms he made last year of his government’s hostile stance toward the State of Israel.

On Thursday, South Africa’s Judicial Service Commission (JSC) — which investigates complaints made against judges — found Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng guilty of misconduct for comments made at an online seminar in June 2020, in which he appeared alongside South Africa’s Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein. Mogoeng invoked his Christian faith as the reason for his “love” of Israel, criticizing the South African government for maintaining close diplomatic ties with the country’s former colonizers while frequently attacking the Jewish state.

“Did Israel take away our land or the land of Africa? Did Israel take our mineral wealth? We’ve got to move from a position of principle here,” Mogoeng declared at one point during the seminar, which was hosted by the Jerusalem Post newspaper.

In the days that followed the seminar, Mogoeng remained defiant in the face of strident condemnation of his support for Israel.

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“Even if 50 million people were to march every day for 10 years for me to do so, I would not apologize,” he told local media outlets on July 6, 2020. “If I perish, I perish.”

The JSC’s decision followed three complaints against Mogoeng lodged by three pro-Palestinian organizations, including the South Africa BDS Coalition, which advocates a complete boycott of Israel and supports the goal of eliminating the Jewish state.

The committee summarily rejected the argument that Mogoeng’s comments were protected by constitutional guarantees of freedom of worship. The chief justice had quoted several passages from the Bible before telling the seminar, “I cannot as a Christian do anything other than love and pray for Israel, because I know hatred for Israel by me can only attract unprecedented curses upon our nation.”

The JCC answered that “The respondent Chief Justice and all Christians are free to practice their belief within the confines of the Constitution and the law. They, however, like all other citizens, must also observe the lawful restrictions of their chosen profession.”

Mogoeng has been instructed to read out a three-paragraph text drafted by the JCC as his apology. The text contains “unconditional apologies” for his remarks at the seminar as well as his subsequent comment that “50 million people” could not force him to apologize.

In a statement of solidarity with Mogoeng, advocacy organization South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) declared, “Hands Off Chief Justice, Hands Off.”

The ruling against Mogoeng was “a form of institutional cancel culture against judges who publicly express the Christian beliefs that underpin their support for Israel and peace,” Bafana Modise — a spokesperson for SAFI — said in a statement on Friday.

Modise emphasized that SAFI “strongly protests the decision from the JSC. It cannot be that a few small but noisy and extremist groups have the last say on the beliefs and views of peace-loving South Africans.”

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