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April 26, 2021 12:51 pm

Top South African Jewish Organization Slams Country’s Judicial Commission for ‘Discriminatory’ Questioning of Jewish Candidates

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

A South African flag. Photo: Achim Raschka via Wikimedia Commons.

Two Jewish South African judicial candidates were asked intrusive, disrespectful, and discriminatory questions about their Judaism and Jewish identity during interviews by the country’s Judicial Service Commission (JSC), South Africa’s top Jewish organization said Monday.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies said that Advocate Lawrence Lever was asked whether he observed Shabbat, although no non-Jewish candidates were asked religious questions.

Both Lever and his fellow candidate Judge David Unterhalter were also interrogated about their connections to the SAJBD itself and further quizzed about their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the group said, while other candidates were not asked to comment on questions of international politics.

Unterhalter — whose candidacy has been targeted by the South African BDS Coalition because of his involvement with the Jewish community — was asked during his questioning, “Don’t you think that your affiliation or being a former or ex-leader of the Jewish Board of Deputies may raise these possibilities of bias when issues related to the State of Israel or Palestine arise in our court?”

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The Israel as an apartheid state libel was also raised, with one interrogator saying, “My view would be that just as anybody who has an association with apartheid cannot at the same time believe in a constitution that espouses equality. That’s obvious. So, if that connection is therefore correct, can the same be said about an organization that has some relationship with Zionism being by definition inherently irreconcilable with the notion of equality between people?”

Unterhalter was also directly asked, “What is your view on the two-state solution?”

Lever was asked similar questions, including, “Were you ever a member of the Jewish Board of Deputies?” and “What is your view on the two-state solution on the Israel-Palestine conflict?”

One of the questioners also asked, “Do you keep the Sabbath? In other words, do you not do any work on the Saturday? Do you think that will impact your… If you are given, for instance an urgent application on the Sabbath, would you take it on?”

Wendy Kahn, the SAJBD’s National Director, commented, “Our country’s Freedom Charter as well as in the preamble to our constitution clearly states, ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.’ From the questions asked at the JSC interviews this month to Jewish candidates, one would question whether this applies equally to members of the Jewish community or whether those bent on pursuing an antisemitic agenda are beginning to unduly influence key decision-making bodies.”

“Twenty-seven years ago, we heralded in our constitutional democracy,” she added. “Tomorrow, as we celebrate Freedom Day, we call on all South Africans to stand up and protect these constitutional values and reject all forms of discrimination.”

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