By Tzvi Brivik, Chairperson, Cape SAJBD
South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
These are words found in the preamble to our constitution. The purpose of such a comprehensive constitution was, as is set out in the preamble, described as laying the foundation for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law. This includes a right that all citizens are equally entitled to rights and the benefits of citizenship.
The benefits of citizenship in turn includes the freedom of religion, thought and belief. On 26 April, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies expressed its disappointment in the manner in which the judicial service commission conducted certain of the interviews for judicial appointments.
We had asserted that Jewish applicants were targeted in the interviews. We further asserted that the Jewish candidates were singled out for questioning based on their Jewish belief and, in the case of one of the applicants, his association with the SAJBD. It was asked of him whether as a former member of the SAJBD he felt he was still qualified for an appointment to the bench. Another candidate was asked what his attitude would be to taking on work over Shabbat.
Our own Cape SAJBD constitution confirms that as the representative body of the Jewish community, we are to safeguard the religious and civil rights as well as the status of the Jewish community. That includes matters affecting its relationship with the government in different spheres.
The Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC’s) response in a media statement is most worrying, as it states that the association with SAJBD was raised as it concerned an organisation —our organisation— which was seen as supporting Zionism, which the media statement goes on to record is viewed as a discriminatory form of nationalism and potentially in conflict with the values contained in the South African Constitution. This is the most alarming position for members of the JSC to adopt and one which requires further engagement and response.
A candidate for employment cannot be asked their religious affiliation or political viewpoint, and exclusion from employment on that basis would be discriminatory. The SAJBD is a democratic body, with democratically elected representatives, and which is representative of all members of the Jewish community, whatever their varying points of view. We will need to assess how this impacts our community.
We are deeply saddened also by the tragedy on Mount Meron. Celebrations of a chag such as this for Lag Ba’Omer should never have turned into such a disaster. A photograph and short biography of each of the souls that were lost is available on the Chabad.org website. The ages range from 13 up to 56. Each soul lost in this tragedy is a life and a soul lost to the world. We extend our condolences to the families and the State of Israel.
Finally, I wanted to wish the Beit Morasha Shul/Arthurs Road, Sea Point congregation a huge mazeltov on the reopening in the week ending 6 May. We recognise the incredible effort of the committee as well as the community, and wish the congregation success in the future.
• Published in the PDF edition of the June 2021 issue – Download here.
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