Retired judge Siraj Desai under attack from Israeli interest group
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Johannesburg - Retired Western Cape High Court judge Siraj Desai rejected “with contempt” allegations that he either breached the judicial code of conduct or became involved in political controversy.
The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) filed a complaint against Desai with the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC), claiming his actions and conduct over many years “are plainly in breach of the Code of Judicial Conduct and entirely unbecoming of a judicial officer”.
The complaint was notarised in Israel by an attorney acting for SAZF, KZN lifetime president, professor Anthony Arkin, who now lives in Israel.
Desai, who is busy setting up the offices of the Legal Ombud in Pretoria said while he has not been officially informed of the complaint against him, he views it as “another own goal by the desperate Israeli lobby”.
“Amid the total collapse of Israel's reputation globally, based on the failure of Israel’s lobbyists to hide the truth, the Israeli lobby desperately continues its endless attempts to confuse the public,” he said.
Spokesperson for the SAZF’s Legal Forum, Rolene Marks, said they recently became aware of the exact range and extent of Desai’s misconduct, which it claims includes involvement in political controversy, misusing the prestige of his judicial office to advance his personal political interests, failing to recuse himself in a case in which he was obviously conflicted and involving himself in activities that used the position of his office to promote a partisan political cause.
Marks said last year, Desai was interviewed on an Iranian YouTube channel, and made “inappropriate” comments, likening Ayatollah Khomeini to President Nelson Mandela.
“To compare a world-renowned peacemaker like President Mandela to the despotic founding leader of a regime, notorious for its disregard of human rights, and which is responsible for gross human rights violations, including torture and violence against thousands of people, is an insult to the people of South Africa, the Constitution, and our democratic institutions. Judge Desai has a long history of endorsing and promoting the anti-Israel political lobby,” she said.
SAZF further said in 2018 Desai welcomed and supported the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, during their trip to South Africa.
“This, despite the fact that the Hamas Charter includes direct calls for violence against Jewish people and the destruction of the State of Israel. Using the prestige of the judicial office to publicly promote an extremist organisation is clearly contrary to the precepts underlying the Judicial Code of Conduct,” Marks added.
Desai, through his spokesperson, professor Usuf Chitke, hit back: “Seven South Africa political parties condemned the human rights violations committed by Israel, more than 300 South African hardware stores cancelled more than R200 million contracts with pro-Israeli companies, as our president speaks openly about Israel's Apartheid, as our government considers a total closure of diplomatic relations with Israel and as the Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng desperately attempts to win an appeal against a ruling by the JSC that he must apologise for bringing his office into disrepute – the Zionist Federation decided to lodge a complaint against retired Judge Siraj Desai. It is interesting that the complainant notarised his documents in Israel and sent them to the JCC from Israel, showing the obvious interference and involvement by Israel in this attack on Judge Desai,” he said.
In June last year, Justice Mogoeng told a webinar, organised by The Jerusalem Post, that he was under an obligation as a Christian to love Israel and pray for Jerusalem’s peace, which means that country’s peace.
“The intention of this complaint is both to try to defame or tarnish his reputation and to distract the public from the controversy Mogoeng Mogoeng is being held to account for. There are many ironies in this complaint, firstly that it took the Zionist Federation five years to decide that there was a controversy and that the JSC should hold judge Desai to account, ” he said.
Chitke said the attempts to defame Desai backfired so badly that the public and numerous human rights organisations are issuing press statements congratulating him for his incredible efforts.
“The allegations that Judge Desai has been instrumental in supporting human rights and solidarity efforts are compliments and have already made him a celebrated hero across the country. The Zionist Federation have also brought attention to the fact that saying "Apartheid Israel" is neither antisemitic nor controversial, but honest and truthful.
“While saying "I stand with Israel" is indeed extremely controversial because it means you support human rights violations, you don’t support our government's position and that you stand in support of an Apartheid oppressive system,” he added.
Desai said he would respond to the “allegations and some incorrect inferences” when, and if, requested by the relevant authorities, but for now, he is focussing on the next step in his career.
“Because it is an entirely new institution (Legal Ombud), that is taking up a lot of time. I spent at least half my time in Pretoria. Little time to miss the Cape bench. I do not miss it, but I certainly miss my friends on the bench. And I am glad to be far away from the unfolding drama,” he said.
The JCC could not be reached for comment.