The SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has slammed the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) interview process meant to fill two vacancies at the Constitutional Court (ConCourt).
The body, which styles itself as a “civil rights lobby of the SA Jewish community”, described the process as “Ground Hog Day” for the Jewish community.
“Once again, a Jewish candidate for the Constitutional Court, Judge David Unterhalter, was targeted for his association with the SAJBD,” said Charisse Zeifert, head of communications for the body.
Unterhalter, a popular choice for a ConCourt position, was democratically elected to the SAJBD last year. But he resigned from the position before the JSC’s first interview process in April.
The JSC interviews had to be repeated because of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution’s (Casac’s) court challenge of the initial interviews.
Casac accused several members of the JSC, including EFF leader Julius Malema, of “political grandstanding” and out-of-line questioning of candidates.
Casac executive secretary Lawson Naidoo argued that some of the questions asked during the interviews were irrelevant and aimed at ambushing the candidates.
Judges Dhaya Pillay, Unterhalter and Fayeeza Kathree-Setiloane were questioned about their associations and temperament.
Pillay – who was ultimately not recommended for the appointment – was questioned about her friendship with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.
Kathree-Setiloane was reportedly ambushed and unfairly attacked when she had to answer questions about a complaint made against her by a clerk years back, which the JSC found was baseless.
Commissioner Griffiths Madonsela grilled Unterhalter about his membership of the SAJBD.
Madonsela said: “It seems to me that the fundamental premise of the objection is the assertion that the SAJBD is a body that is pro-Zionist and that is in fact bullying all their people and organisations who are objecting to the Israeli establishment in the Palestine region.”
The SAJBD said Madonsela’s political agenda was distinctly evident.
“The depiction of the SAJBD as a ‘bullying’ organisation is a baseless and highly offensive smear against an organisation whose mandate is to protect South African Jews’ civil rights,” said Zeifert.
“If anyone should be accused of bullying, it is commissioner Madonsela, whose factually inaccurate, prejudicial and irresponsible assertions have no place in an interview to assess judicial competence,” she added.
“The SAJBD objects strenuously to this vile characterisation of our organisation.
“We find it indefensible that a person’s association with a body that protects Jews’ human rights in our country could preclude them from public office,” said Zeifert.
The SAJBD says it will be addressing these issues with the JSC.