By Iqbal Jassat*
Douglas Gibson’s call on Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to defy the ruling by the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) against him is an arrogant display of utter disrespect and may be construed to be a call for anarchy.
That it comes from a former member of Parliament belonging to the opposition DA party and having served in the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), it is shocking to read that Gibson would steep to such a low level in utter disregard for the rule of law.
Having read Gibson’s misplaced arguments which obfuscate the core reasons why Johannesburg Judge President Phineas Mojapelo, who headed the JCC panel, ruled in favor of the applicants, I am not surprised.
Gibson’s tenure in opposition politics within a party known to have pro-Israel leanings is a factor one cannot discount. After all, the controversy which has been raging since the infamous Jerusalem Post webinar featuring South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein along with Chief Justice Mogoeng, was in all probability designed to be a central feature in Israel’s ongoing propaganda war.
While his exuberance in declaring love for Israel may have excited Israel’s lobbyists, it is not the reason CJ Mogoeng has been indicted for being in breach of the code of judicial conduct.
And no matter the number of times Gibson attempts to reduce the wide-ranging findings to a simplistic, narrow and unintelligent narrative, the merits of the complaints and substance of the decision make it clear that Gibson has it wrong.
It is important to revisit the context of the ruling which arose from Mogoeng’s utterances. Having invoked his beliefs citing biblical verses in support of Israel, he went on to criticize the government’s policy position. Crossing the line as head of the country’s Judiciary to slate the Executive on its foreign policy was not only unbecoming but also in violation of his Judicial Office’s limitations.
And to conflate his misdirected public attack on South Africa’s official stance in defense of Palestine’s human rights which have been trampled underfoot by Israel for more than seven decades, Mogoeng remained unrepentant.
Despite knowing that the pillars of the judiciary which complainants argued have been undermined by his remarks, Mogoeng’s defiance was underlined by more arrogance: “Even if 50 million people were to march every day for 10 years for me to do so, I would not apologize. If I perish, I perish.”
Judge Mojapelo said Mogoeng had expressed his defiance at a time when he was aware that the JCC had been investigating complaints of judicial misconduct.
“It was an opportunity for him, as leader of the judiciary, to publicly declare his confidence in the statutory process of the JCC”, instead. his statement “did the opposite, exuding a self-righteous view that he would only apologize if he believed himself to be wrong.”
Contrary to Gibson’s narrow understanding, the JCC panel’s ruling is unambiguous. It found Mogoeng to have “undermined and failed to show respect for the constitutionally ordained separation of powers” by getting “involved in the political controversy on the issue of South Africa’s policy towards Israel and the conduct of its diplomatic relations.”
The findings are scathing and rightly so. Mogoeng could not have been unaware that the webinar promotions advertised him as South Africa’s Chief Justice: “The webinar did not advance the interests of his judicial office.”
Gibson’s tunnel vision of the decision is further tainted by his speculation regarding the speed in reaching a finding. His suspicion that the expeditious action against the chief justice is “that it involved Israel” is unfounded.
Contrary to his conspiracy theory, Sunday Times columnist Franny Rabkin writes that legal organizations have praised the JCC for its speed in reaching a decision.
They have hailed it as “a welcome sign that some legal disciplinary processes work – even in a complaint against the highest judicial office.”
Gibson has injected a number of red herrings to justify his advice to Mogoeng to reject Judge Mojapelo’s findings. It goes without saying that conflating Myanmar’s military coup with “love for Israel” professed by Mogoeng is brainless. One cannot be speaking in forked tongues by opposing the military junta and loving them at the same time.
Nevertheless, the sanction received by Mogoeng, which he has on the eve of the 10-day deadline decided to contest via a review, required him to retract and apologize unreservedly.
All it means is that the process of justice may be delayed but not denied. After all the integrity of the most important judicial office of our constitutional democracy, which the JCC found to have been undermined, remains at stake.
– Iqbal Jassat is an Executive Member of the South Africa-based Media Review Network. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle. Visit: www.mediareviewnet.com