BREAKING: South African Zionist Federation Succeeds in Complaint Against Judge Siraj Desai for Behaviour Unbecoming of a Judge; Desai Censured for Involvement in Political Controversy in Support of the BDS Movement

The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) welcomes the Judicial Conduct Committee’s (JCC) finding against Judge Siraj Desai, released on Thursday, 08 June 2023. We are satisfied with the JCC’s ruling that Judge Desai wrongfully involved himself in political controversy by endorsing the anti-Israel and antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

The SAZF’s complaint was dealt with in terms of section 17(4)(a) of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) Act, 9 of 1994, and it was found that “Judge Desai conducted himself in a manner unbecoming of a Judge and has been given a written warning in terms of section 17(8)(c) of the JSC Act.” A copy of the JCC’s communication on this decision is available here for reference. 

The JCC found that Judge Siraj Desai was a signatory to a BDS Coalition statement, and that he became involved in political controversy as a result. The findings state that “while it is true that judges as citizens of this country are entitled to hold political views, they exercise such rights subject to the rigours of their calling including the applicable ethical constraints”.

The reason for stringent ethical constraints in relation to judges forms part of the JSC Act and its Code of Judicial Conduct, which seeks to maintain and promote the integrity and independence of the office of a judge. The ruling clarifies that it is therefore “not open to Judge Desai to assert the right to freedom of association…when provisions of the Code are invoked. To this extent…the judge conducted himself in a manner unbecoming of a judge”.

This ruling sends an important message to holders of high public office to steer clear of political controversy unbecoming of their status. It is an obvious affront to our respected judicial system when judges publicly support racist and extremist organisations including the antisemitic BDS movement. 

The SAZF welcomes the remedial action evoked by the JCC, which has issued a warning to Judge Desai not to participate in or become involved in any political controversy or activity in the future, unless necessary for judicial duties. We note that Judge Desai has flagrantly continued his political activities even while his conduct was under review, by participating in BDS marches, protests and events as recently as April 2023, and we hope he will take careful notice of the JCC’s ruling going forward. 

The JCC’s finding that Judge Desai acted in contravention of the Judicial Code also sets a boundary for extra-judicial political conduct. Its findings reinforce the checks and balances in its system and the SAZF commends the JCC for its decision.

Judge Desai’s support of the BDS movement is thoroughly unacceptable, given the BDS’s frequent, extreme and blatant promotion of antisemitism. The Constitutional Court recently found that a member of a BDS-affiliated organisation had engaged in antisemitic hate speech directed at the Jewish community. On another occasion, a pig’s head was placed in the Kosher section of a grocery store, in support of the BDS movement in South Africa. 

The SAZF will continue to advocate for Israel and Zionism in South Africa, with the aim to build support for the State of Israel, which remains a committed partner towards the sustainable development of the entire African continent.