JSC says it is 'factually inaccurate' that Jewish applicants were targeted at interviews

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The Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
Cornel van Heerden
  • The SA Jewish Board of Deputies claims that Jewish candidates were targeted at the recently concluded Judicial Service Commission interviews.
  • The commission, however, says the claim is "factually incorrect".  
  • Candidates were interviewed for two weeks in April for vacancies at various superior courts.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has denied claims that its interviews of Jewish candidates for appointment to the Bench were discriminatory and anti-Constitutional.  

This comes after the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) alleged that Jewish applicants were "targeted at interviews".

In a statement last week, SAJBD national director Wendy Kahn said: "Questions of a discriminatory and anti-Constitutional nature were asked of two Jewish judicial candidates at the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) interviews prior to Freedom Day."

Kahn said advocate Lawrence Lever, SC, and Judge David Unterhalter were subjected to questions about their Jewish identities but no other candidates were subjected to "offensive religious scrutiny".

The board also found it "extremely disturbing" that questions posed to both Lever and Unterhalter focused extensively on their possible association with it. 

Kahn 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 panellists asking a question that is so problematic in terms of religious rights and so obviously discriminatory.

But in a statement issued on Tuesday morning, the JSC said the SAJBD's statement was "factually inaccurate".  

"It is not true that commissioners were allowed to ask discriminatory and anti-constitutional questions," it said.

"The questions relating to the association with the 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.  

READ | Attempts to get Judge Unterhalter's ConCourt bid rejected ‘because of association with the board'

"The questions on this score were raised with the two candidates, following letters of objections received by the JSC in respect of Judge Unterhalter from various organisations, including the Black Lawyers Association. This is part of the JSC practice intended to afford candidates the opportunity to respond to objections lodged against their candidatures."

The JSC said Unterhalter had voluntarily stepped down from his position as an executive member of the SAJBD in recognition of the fact that it would be undesirable to occupy a post on the board were he to be appointed as a justice of the Constitutional Court.

"A question to advocate Lever SC relating to the observance of the Sabbath was asked by a commissioner who stated that he himself was a Seventh Day Adventist to whom the postulated problem applied. As it happens, the candidate answered that he personally did not observe the Sabbath or words to that effect.

"It is not factually correct that other candidates who are not of Jewish descent were not asked questions related to their religious affiliations. There were other candidates, amongst them Adv [Daniel] De Villiers SC, Adv [Nobahle] Mangcu-Lockwood and Mr [Daniel] Thulare, who are not of Jewish descent, but were asked questions relating to their religious or cultural beliefs and the impact on the Constitution." 

Lever was recommended for appointment as a judge in the Northern Cape and Unterhalter was not recommended. 

The JSC said neither decision was linked to their religious beliefs or identities.

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