The South Africa Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has responded to allegations of discrimination by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) against two Jewish judge candidates at the recently concluded JSC interviews.
Last week the SAJBD accused the JSC of targeting advocate Lawrence Lever and judge David Unterhalter when they were asked questions about the Jewish religion.
“It should be noted that no other candidate was questioned on their religious practices, except those of the Jewish faith,” the SAJBD said.
“Christian candidates were not asked about working on Christmas, nor were Muslim candidates asked about working on Friday afternoons or Eid.
“It is appalling to think that the JSC, which is mandated to recommend judges to the highest courts, would countenance one of their panelists asking a question that is so problematic in terms of religious rights and so obviously discriminatory.”
The JSC in a statement on Tuesday said the SAJBD was selectively quoting parts of the interviews.
It rejected claims that no other candidate was questioned on their religious practices except those of the Jewish faith. It also labelled the claims by the SAJBD as factually inaccurate.
“The questions relating to the association with SAJBD dealt with concerns that the organisation supports Zionism which is viewed as a discriminatory form of nationalism and potentially in conflict with the values contained in the South African Constitution,” reads the statement.
It said that Unterhalter had since voluntarily stepped down as an executive member of the SAJBD.
“This is in recognition and acknowledgment that it would be undesirable to occupy a position on the board were he to be appointed as a judge of the Constitutional Court.”
It said that Lever was questioned about the Sabbath by a commissioner who said he was a Seventh-Day Adventist to whom the postulated problem applied. It said Lever personally said he did not observe the Sabbath or words to that effect.
Lever has since been recommended for appointment while Unterhalter did not make the final list of nominees.