Judicial Service Commission panel put 'offensive' questions to Jewish candidates: SAJBD

Advocate Lawrence Lever and judge David Unterhalter were subjected to questions about their Jewish identity, the Palestine-Israel conflict and their views on the 'two-state solution'. Stock photo.
Advocate Lawrence Lever and judge David Unterhalter were subjected to questions about their Jewish identity, the Palestine-Israel conflict and their views on the 'two-state solution'. Stock photo.
Image: 123RFEvgenyi Lastochkin

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) on Wednesday noted that questions of a “discriminatory and anti-constitutional nature” had been asked of two Jewish judicial candidates interviewed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

“Advocate Lawrence Lever and judge David Unterhalter were subjected to questions pertaining to their Jewish identity while no other candidates were subjected to offensive religious scrutiny,” SAJBD national director Wendy Kahn said in a statement on Monday, which included transcripts of the interviews.

Advocate Lever was, according to Kahn, asked if he observed the Jewish Sabbath and told by a JSC panellist that observance of the Sabbath would be problematic for his appointment.

“This overtly prejudicial statement runs contrary to the basic constitutional principles in our country of protecting our citizens' rights to practise their religion without fear or discrimination. Christian candidates were not asked about working on Christmas, nor were Muslim candidates asked about working on Friday afternoons or Eid,” said Kahn.

“It is appalling to think that the JSC, which is mandated to recommend judges to the highest courts, would countenance one of their panellists asking a question that is so problematic in terms of religious rights and so obviously discriminatory.”

Unterhalter and Lever were also quizzed about their possible association with the SAJBD — the elected body of South African Jewry. Kahn said the constitution was clear that “people belonging to a cultural religious or linguistic community may not be denied the rights, with other members of the community, to form, join and maintain cultural, religious and linguistic associations and other organs of civil society”.

The candidates were asked about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and their views and stance on the two-state solution.

“It is difficult to understand how a conflict of this nature has intruded into this forum,” said Kahn.

“Twenty-seven years ago we heralded in our constitutional democracy. 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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