The allegations against Judge Siraj Desai are wide-ranging and without substance. This is a dirty tricks campaign by the pro-Israel South African Zionist Federation against a person of moral consistency, decency, honesty and fortitude.
We note that the SAZF has the right to be completely wrong about its unqualified and unrelenting support for the settler colonial policies of Israel. However, the SAZF does not have the right to impose that biased understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict on the rest of the South African community. This complaint against Judge Desai is not about things that he might have done that are wrong. It is merely an instance of pro-Israel lobbying by the SAZF.
One need only to stick to the political case with UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, international law, international humanitarian law, international conventions and the International Court of Justice ruling on the Israeli Separation Wall to know that this attack on Judge Desai is wrong on all counts. The recent reports by Yesh Din, B’tselem and Human Rights Watch that Israel is an Apartheid state affirm that the SAZF is as wrong on the issue of Israel-Palestine as it was during the days of Apartheid when Israel was an ally of the Apartheid regime and the Palestinians gave our struggle for freedom and dignity moral, political financial and military support. The historically oppressed people of South Africa owe a debt to Palestine that can never be repaid. This matter is about accusations against a former judge who always has to tread a fine line between solidarity and being just to both Israeli Jews and Palestinians. There is nothing wrong in opposing Israeli settler colonial practices without qualification and supporting the political choices of Palestinian resistance movements with qualifications. Judge Desai supporting (Egypt 2009) the end of the siege on Gaza is not a violation of judicial independence. It in fact affirms that the siege on Gaza is an inhumane, illegal collective punishment on a people who chose Hamas to lead the Palestinian Authority in 2006. Even the Apartheid regime did not collectively punish communities for choosing liberation movement above Bantustan leaderships. Judge Desai is required by the burden of his office to defend human rights inside and outside the office. He cannot be expected to remain neutral when the political, legal, moral, humanitarian humane case is stacked against the argument that the SAZF is making.
In calling for the implementation of the findings of the Goldstone Report, Judge Desai was merely calling for Israel to step back from its violations of international law in its military operations in the occupied Palestinian territories. This should be uncontroversial, even to the ZASF.
Moreover, there is no legal requirement for Judge Siraj Desai to recuse himself in matter related to the BDS. Legal counsel for either of the parties in the case did not seek his recusal or sought leave to appeal his judgement in the matter. The SAZF is really taking liberties in raising objections. His job as a judge required that he study the facts, the arguments for and against the facts, the credibility of witnesses and make his decisions accordingly. His integrity, honesty, decency and courage would be sufficient to see him through as it did.
Moreover, Israel could be accused of both anti-Iranism and anti-Palestinism. The pro-Israel lobby seeks to delegitimise every Iranian and Palestinian leader. As South Africans we note that Iran under Imam Khomeini supported the struggle against Apartheid whilst Israel was a strategic ally of Apartheid. As South Africans we can give unqualified support for the Islamic Revolution in Iran and critical support for the political practices of the Iranian state. Israel wants Judge Siraj Desai to uncritically share in its anti-Iranism. The SAZF reserves also a special place in its programme to undermine Hamas and discredit anyone who meets, greets, talks to and eats with representatives of Hamas. Judge Desai did not bring his office into disrepute by meeting Hamas as a leading member of the Muslim community. As with Iran, we give unqualified support for the struggle of the Palestinian people but give qualified solidarity for the political choices of their liberation movements. We do not give anyone the blank cheque that the SAZF gives the state of Israel.
As an anti-Apartheid activist for 50 years and a High Court judge for 25 years Siraj Desai does not need lessons in impartiality from the SAZF that wants to draw Judge Siraj Desai into the area of anti-Semitism but he will not go there. His political and judicial records speak for themselves. A similar tactic has been used against Bernie Sanders (USA), Jeremy Corbyn (UK) and now Siraj Desai (SA). This is more than the pro-Israel lobby flexing its muscles in South Africa. And the SAZF lobby knows this. It is to the credit of South Africa that human rights organisations, NGOs and activists have come out in support of Judge Siraj Desai. The Israeli Embassy, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs know that South Africa is a place where real anti-Semitism is unacceptable in the broad society. Judge Siraj Desai is of the first to speak out against vicious anti-Semitism as an instance of racism, prejudice, bigotry and hatred. However, he believes in a single human race and that there is not a hierarchy of human worth, dignity and anti-racisms. Racism is absurd and multi-racism is absurdity multiplied. Anti-Semitism is too grave a human rights violation to be weaponised. The SAZF should not be indulged in this unwarranted attack on Judge Siraj Desai.
The attack on Judge Siraj Desai is despicable and must be delegitimised. Siraj Desai – not a perfect human being- but one who tries, fails, tries gain fails better (Samuel Beckett) like all of us. He is just of those who takes the question “what does it mean to be human” better than many. As an activist and lawyer he always fought for the people who were on the receiving end. As a judge he had to study the facts and make decisions accordingly. And he had consistently done these things for 50 years. Just leave him alone.
And by the way President Nelson Mandela is not beyond reproach or comparison. The SAZF did not come to the defence of President Mandela when the ally of Israel imprisoned Nelson Mandela for 27 years. This belated and partial appreciation of the iconic Mandela is empty gesture politics by the SAZF. Mandela said “South Africa will not be free until Palestine is free”. Or did the SAZF not hear that? Would they also accuse President Mandela of being non-Presidential with an anti-Israel bias for having made that statement? We note that the SAZF questions the integrity and impartiality and fitness to be a judge of Siraj Desai because he met Hamas. The same Nelson Mandela that the SAZF elevates to a status beyond comparison hosted the arch-nemesis of Israel Yasser Arafat on a three-day official visit and he rolled out the red carpet and called out the national band. He also awarded Yasser Arafat the highest medal f honour for the support that Palestinians gave to South African struggle for freedom and dignity. On the other hand, he SAZF did not say a word when the Apartheid Prime Minister John Vorster was an official visit to Israel in 1976. The least we can expect from a campaigning organisation is moral consistency, honesty, decency and courage.
It is an act of joy to stand in solidarity with Judge Siraj Desai. And the JSC should not be indulging the pro-Israel lobby on this matter. It is a disgraceful attack on a good person who has served – and continues to do so- South Africa with distinction.
Dr Mogamat Reederwan Craayenstein – Qibla, Protect UWC and #handsoffSirajDesai