Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng will have to do what he vowed he never would – apologise for and retract pro-Israel comments he made during a webinar in June last year.
The Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) has found Justice Mogoeng guilty of breaching the code of conduct by becoming involved in political controversy and ordered him to apologise unconditionally. This occurred when Justice Mogoeng took part in a webinar titled ’’Two Chiefs, One Mission: Confronting Apartheid of the Heart’’ with the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, which was hosted by The Jerusalem Post.
He was criticised for voicing his full support for Israel and further said that South Africa and Africans at large had not cut diplomatic ties with colonisers, yet they criticised Israel.
An NGO, Africa 4 Palestine, the SA Boycott Disinvestments and Sanctions Coalition and a Durban-based Women’s Cultural Group complained separately to the Judicial Service Commission about Justice Mogoeng’s comments last July.
The JCC said Mogoeng has to apologise within the next 10 days at a meeting of serving justices of the Constitutional Court, and release a copy of the apology under his signature to the Office of the Chief Justice and to the media.
The JCC further ordered Mogoeng to unreservedly retract and withdraw a statement he uttered after a public outcry over his initial comments.
The question that sparked the furore was asked by the webinar moderator, the editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, Yakoov Katz, who enquired about the justice’s love for the Jewish people, for Israel, for the state of Israel and his thoughts on the tense diplomatic relations between SA and Israel.
Indicating that he was bound by the South African government’s stance on the matter, Justice Mogoeng, who first quoted from the Bible, said: ’’I cannot as a Christian do anything other than love and pray for Israel because I know hatred for Israel by me and for my nation will, can only attract unprecedented curses upon our nation.”
Justice Mogoeng said in response to the criticism his comments evoked: “To everybody that is angry about my remarks and the position I take, ask God. He is the God who listens. He is the God who speaks.
“I will never say I hate anybody or any nation. I will never. I love everybody. I love Israel. I love the Jews. I love the Palestinians. I love everybody, every nation… I don’t hate anybody,” he said.
Justice Mogoeng said politicians who had condemned him were in fact condemning prayer.
“So people, even politicians, want to tell me what to pray for. How can you condemn prayer? I said I must pray, meaning I must ask God. How can you condemn me for asking God for peace?”
“I will not reject my God, I will not apologise for believing in my God. I will not apologise for being a Christian. I will not apologise for praying.
“I will never, even if 50 million people can march every day for the next 10 years, for me to retract or apologise for what I say, I will not do it,” he said.
“I said in that webinar those that are plotting against me right now, even to kill me; those who will plot to destroy and kill me even in 10 years to come — they are already forgiven. I meant it.
“Everybody who is insulting me. Everybody who is lying about me — whether Christian or not Christian — I love you and I forgive you. May God have mercy on you. May God reveal the truth to you, in the name of Jesus.
“There will, therefore, be no retraction. There is nothing to retract. There will be no apology — not even this political apology that ‘in case I have offended anybody without meaning to offend them’, for that reason I will not apologise for anything.
“There is nothing to apologise for. There is nothing to retract. I can’t apologise for loving. I cannot apologise for not harbouring hatred and bitterness. I will not.
The other complaint was dismissed by the committee: that he had involved himself in extrajudicial activities which are incompatible with the confidence in and the impartiality of judges and that he failed to recuse himself from a pending case where there has arisen a reasonable suspicion of bias against one of the parties.
The committee said that in considering appropriate remedial action under section 17(8) of the JSC Act, it took into consideration the nature of the contravention, the position of the respondent in the judiciary, the circumstances in which the judicial misconduct arose and the public interest within the broad legal framework as defined by the constitution, the law and the rules of ethics.
“Within that framework, the South African judiciary is and must remain one which does not unduly involve itself in political controversy. It does not use or lend the prestige of judicial office to advance any private interests, whether of its individual members or others.
“It jealously guards its independence, impartiality and public confidence in the courts and respects the separation of power (where appropriate) and justly demands of the other organs of the state to fulfil their constitutional obligations in terms of section 165(4) of the constitution,” it said.
The committee said the more the members of the judiciary complied with its own constitutional, legal and ethical obligations, the greater the public confidence it attracted.
The committee said Justice Mogoeng’s apology should read:
“Apology and Retraction
“I, Mogoeng Mogoeng, Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa, hereby apologise unconditionally for becoming involved in political controversy through my utterances in the online seminar (webinar) hosted by The Jerusalem Post on 23 June 2020, in which I participated.
“I further hereby unreservedly retract and withdraw the after statement which I uttered subsequent thereto or other words to the same effect: “I stand by my refusal to retract or apologise for any part of what I said during the webinar. Even if 50 million people were to march every day for 10 years for me to do so, I would not apologise. If I perish, I perish.
“I reaffirm my recognition for the statutory authority of the Judicial Conduct Committee of the Judicial Service Commission established in terms of Part 11 of the JSC Act 9 of 1994 to decide on any complaint of alleged judicial misconduct against me and all judges in the Republic of South Africa.
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