Last summer, South Africa’s chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was subjected to ferocious criticism after he suggested that his country take a more “balanced” approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and spoke in biblical terms of his “love for Israel.” Complaints about his conduct have led to a recent formal ruling that he violated the country’s strict laws prohibiting judges from publicly commenting on political issues, and giving him ten days to apologize—which he refuses to do. But even if there is a case to be made that Mogoeng ran afoul of official codes of conduct, argues Milton Shain, the response to the affair by both the press and the authorities betrays something far more troubling:
For decades the Jewish state has been maligned and the ideology of Zionism mangled [in South Africa]. Ironically, vilification [of Israel] in the 1950s emanated mainly from the radical white right. Neo-Nazis such as Ray Rudman, for example, located malevolent Jewish power in the Zionist enterprise. . . . Today the anti-Zionist left mirrors the old radical white right. It too characterizes Israel in sinister terms: the Jewish state is at the center of a vast conspiracy, nefariously manipulating global and domestic politics and finance.
In power since 1994, the African National Congress (ANC) has in effect separated “good” Jews from “bad” (Zionist) Jews. . . . Essentially, the ANC and the progressive left see Zionism through an South Africa prism. With a mind-boggling sweep of one-sided history, rooted firmly in a colonial settler paradigm and devoid of even a shred of historical sensitivity, . . . it simplistically frames a 100-year-old conflict within an apartheid framework, an approach largely jettisoned by serious scholars of the subject. No place is left for complexity or competing narratives.
While antagonism towards Israel cannot axiomatically be equated with anti-Semitism, it is apparent that the discourse of anti-Zionism often goes beyond the bounds of normal political rhetoric and frequently betrays vulgar Jew-hatred. Israel alone is signaled out for obloquy, while the human-rights abuses of many other states are ignored. Mogoeng made this clear. In so doing he crossed a red line.