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Cape Town’s Muslims and Jews pray together

Members of Cape Town’s Jewish and Muslim communities, made history last Shabbos as some 30 Muslims performed Maghrib, their sunset prayer, inside a Wynberg Progressive shul on Friday evening – all in aid of furthering interfaith relations.“More than ever, Jews and Muslims particularly need to talk together now,” the shul’s rabbi told Jewish Report afterwards. More pictures with story.

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ANT KATZ

“This world seems soaked with religious hatred and violence, and cries out for new direction and leadership,” said the shul’s rabbi and chairman of the SA Association of Progressive Rabbis (SAAPR) Rabbi Greg Alexander. The Progressive Movement seeks to partner with open-minded religious groups to sow the seeds of interfaith co-operation. 

Muslims are currently commemorating Ramadan and every evening at sunset they break their day-long fast on dates, water and prayer. They then have a celebratory meal.

This Ramadan, in a first of its kind in Cape Town, “Temple Israel invited a group of Muslims with Imam Dr Taj Hargey (leader of the Open Mosque in Wynberg) to break their fasts with us and to share our Friday night Shabbat service and dinner,” said Rabbi Alexander.

The guests joined the congregation for the Friday night Shabbat services and the congregation of Wynberg shul responded in droves. More than 200 members welcomed the group of 30 Muslims along with interfaith friends and members of the media. The story was featured in Cape Town’s Weekend Argus on Saturday and Monday morning’s Cape Times.

Story continues after picture…

Iftar Wynberg 24 June16

ABOVE: Imam Hargay and his fellow-guests broke their fast on dates and tea and then prayed their evening Maghrib prayers in the shul on rugs placed there for them.


They then joined the Temple Israel congregants for Kabbalat Shabbat and then together broke bread and ate a Friday night dinner.

Rabbi Alexander and Dr Hargay addressed the gathering on topics such as building bridges instead of hatred and shared sources from the Qur’an and Torah that spoke about interfaith respect. 

Iftar logo of Temple Israel CT“Many people from fear or prejudice told us not to go ahead with this event,” Rabbi Álexander told Jewish Report after Shabbos. However, he said: “We saw that coming together to share food and prayer was an appropriate response to the bitterness of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”

Jews and Muslims in Cape Town live together, work together and their children go to school together.

“Why should they not pray and eat together?” asked Rabbi Alexander.

The shul led Birkat Hamazon and the Muslims responded with a prayer of thankfulness.

Imam Hargey, leader of the Open Mosque in Wynberg who led the prayer, said the initiative aimed to foster interfaith dialogue.

“This sends a powerful message of solidarity and mutual respect worldwide,” said Hargey after the service. “Cape Town has made history.”

One of the Muslim attendees, Naeem Ahmed, said he was “always interested in other religions”. A colleague of his wife had invited her to the shul. “I’m not going against my religion by coming here,” he told The Argus. “We need more interfaith efforts. This is how we can resolve issues, not by dropping bombs.”

One in every five Jews in Cape Town is Progressive, says the SAUPJ. “This was a pioneering experience because of all the issues and conflicts.”

David Lipschitz, a member of Temple Israel, said Jews were meant to “welcome strangers” into their temples. “I’m from Cape Town and it’s the first time I’ve prayed with Muslims,” he said.

Temple Israel, says Alexander, hopes that this is the first of many such events to come. 

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. yitzchak

    Jun 28, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    ‘I take it the muslims were facing Jerusalem as they prayed.

    Next time you can go and pray in their mosque and break Tzom Gedalia in their place.

    Better take a mashgiach with you.’

  2. yitzchak

    Jun 29, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    ‘Next thing the reform will do is put crosses on the 

    bimah. Enough of this nonsense, you are selling out just so you can get articles written about you in the Cape Times. Next thing you’ll be keeping Ramadan instead not yom kippur…. inviting terrorism into our homes ‘

  3. Marc Lipshitz

    Jun 30, 2016 at 11:25 am

    ‘so reform discards more and more of the Torah and then invites others into their shuls…  What a pity they don’t invite the Torahin like they do Muslims!’

  4. Gary

    Jun 30, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    ‘I WILL NOT have any positive interaction with ANYONE who does not recognize The State of Israel
    \nby the way Rabbi Greg Alexander [Sorry, user, but you can’t make unsupported allegation like that without evidence or putting your verifiable name to it  -MODERATOR]

  5. Apikoires

    Jun 30, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    ‘SAJR editor, clearly yitzchak’s comment has bypassed your usually vigilant scrutiny. Muslims breaking their fast in a shul, should not be presented as a prelude to \”inviting terrorism into our homes\”. Comments like these are inappropriate, and undo the progress of laudable initiatives, such as the one described in your article.’

  6. Liebah

    Jun 30, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    ‘What a ridiculous comment, Yitzchak! What the world needs is Interfaith dialogue, tolerance and understanding of one another’s religions.

    Your comment about terrorism shows your intolerance and Islamophobia.  ‘

  7. Ant Katz

    Jul 1, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Apikoires – This is an opinion and, as you obviously know, Jewish religious opinions differ widely. This is a platform where such differeces are able to be discussed without fear or favour.  -Ant Katz, online editor

  8. Anthony Lange

    Jul 1, 2016 at 9:01 am

    ‘Id say ‘R’ Greg is in good company… It reads like a girls school.

    other Leo Baeck’s other alumni are:

    Rabbi Pauline Bebe

    Rabbi Barbara Borts;

    Rabbi Baroness Neuberger;

    Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah;

    Rabbi Dr Drorah Setel

    Rabbi Sybil Sheridan;

    Rabbi Jackie Tabick,

    Rabbi Alexandra Wright….

    So, host muslims in YOUR ‘temple’ – Go Right Ahead.

    At least we know where NO TO GO!’

  9. Apikoires

    Jul 1, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    ‘Thank you Ant, I am of course aware of the divergent religious opinions, and I am happy for them to be openly discussed. Yitzchak’s religious opinion is understood and accepted. Allowing worship by members of other faiths in our shuls, will understandably elicit differences in religious opinion. His comment about \”inviting terrorism into our homes\” can hardly be construed in the context of religious opinion.  ‘

  10. yitzchk

    Jul 1, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    ‘Two different yitzchaks here.’

  11. Dion Futerman

    Jul 4, 2016 at 9:02 am

    ‘Accompanied by 72 virgins ? Next ? An idol of a virgin hanging on the wall ??? ‘

  12. Tish

    Jul 4, 2016 at 10:13 am

    ‘Yitzchak, it is obvioust that you are not well informed about matters of the world or you would not call Muslims terrorists.  Half the world and growing by leaps and bounds know what is really going on.  Educate yourself and get up to speed, unless you really do not want to know the truth.   In SA we are still building relationships and it is not easy.  Together we live in harmony, divided we fall apart.  Find the peace first with yourself, then it will come with all others.  Your ugly side shows your lack of religious compassion.’

  13. nat cheiman

    Jul 5, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    ‘Nu!!! Reform is reform. Orthodox is orthodox and neither the twain agree.

    However, apropos Muslims. I see no real reason for Jews to worship in a mosque nor any reason for a Muslim to pray in a shul, reform or orthodox. I am not for or against it, but the reasons for prayer relate to worship. Muslims worship Mohamed and Jews pray to Hashem. Jews do not kneel nor do they have prayer rugs. We can go on and on about the differences.

    Harmony can be achieved by movie evenings and braais etc. So can relationships be built that way.

    Its not about terrorism, although radical islamists have been spawned from mosques and islam. Moreover, on this specific point, how does anyone know who the terrorists are? If terrorists were recognisable, then they would be caught before doing the act of terror.

    We, as Jews, need to be mindful, and indeed cautious about potential threats of terror, and whilst it is admirable ( and plausible) to educate ourselves toward a harmonious relationship with ALL races and religions, it would be injudicious to allow an unsecured state of affairs to exist, lest a bad situation occurs.

  14. nat cheiman

    Jul 11, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    ‘My comment dated 5 July refers.

    My warning has manifested itself ( almost).

    These 2 alleged terrorists could have davened in shul if it were not for the Hawks sharp eye.

    We have been warned.’

  15. Choni

    Jul 12, 2016 at 11:48 am

    ‘A reply to Ant. Katz. Ant , You once stated that you were brought up to believe that nobody should question our Torah. I agree 100%. If you truly believe this , and I’m sure you do, then any opinion not based on Torah is worthless, and should never be expressed in a Jewish forum.


    \n


    \nSure, Choni, but you should also reckon-in that if you only counted Jews by their interpretation of Torah being exactly the same as yours, you will not have enough of your-called Jewry in the world to sustain a country, a currency, a language, culture, etc. that is today such a sustainable force in both Israel and the diaspora.
    \n
    \nI’d like to think the reason we have out-endured all rival cultures over the millennia has been our willingness to accept and tolerate fellows of the Hebrew line who don’t interpret the Torah as do Choni-cloned Jews.
    \n
    \nLord Sacks once told me in an interview that Jewry in the UK and Commonwealth, a flock over whom he presided, had the maturity and ability to understand the difference between religion and culture. In matters of religion, the various schools of thought differentiate between each other. But at cultural events, all of Hebrew stock become one – ensuring the stability and sustainability of the community.
    \n
    \nNone of us today interpret the Torah in the same way our great grandparents did. None of us. Mostly, we have become more pious, more observant. We have created ways to be able to meet our exact interpretation of Torah, They took the Torah and the Hebrew people for granted. We have learned that we have to risk death, to lose loved ones, if we are going to preserve ourselves and meet Hashem’s expectations of us.
    \n
    \nEnjoy your faith. But learn to share in the joy of having so many of Hebrew descent to stand together. To stand proud. And to ensure the sustainability of your people.
    \n
    \nFor all of Hebrew descent are YOUR people. And you dare not disown them,
    \n
    \nANT KATZ.   

    \n


    \n


  16. Choni

    Jul 13, 2016 at 7:57 am

    ‘Ant, Bottom line is by your remarks you are definitely ‘questioning’ the Torah. Not my interpretation, but the interpretation of our Holy books by our sages past and present (excluding of course those of non-orthodox persuasion) Also Ant, none of my remarks or opinions are based on my own very limited understanding of the Torah-written and oral- They are always based on a Torah which I never question. Anyone whose opinions are not based on Torah, those opinions will never endure.


    \n

    Fair enough. But you, personally, have for many years been running a campaign against a very large Orthodox ‘sect’ – one of the world’s largest – due to their differing interpretation of the Torah. Some of the Breslov sects, too, you differ with. There are many Orthodox schools of thought – mostly as they have (usually, slightly) differing interpretations.

    \n


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What really happened in Israel this week

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It’s just gone 03:00 in the morning on Wednesday, 12 May. I’m hunkering down in a bomb shelter which doubles up as my study in Tel Aviv. I’ve checked a few times that the iron door and window are tightly shut. I can hear the sirens screeching overhead, followed by a pause, and then a massive explosion.

Just a few hours ago, I was outside on the streets, which are eerily quiet for this busy city.

An earlier night-time drive into neighbouring Holon was even more unusual. A main thoroughfare was cordoned off by police and firemen who were shouting into their cell phones and at each other. Half an hour earlier, a rocket had hit an empty bus and debris was lying everywhere. The glass windows of nearby shops had been completely shattered, and residents were coming to assess the damage. Four people are being treated in hospital, one of them a five-year-old girl.

It’s been chaotic since last Friday night, when clashes erupted outside the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. For five consecutive nights, the pattern has been pretty much the same. Muslim worshippers make their way into the Old City through Damascus Gate while outside, Israeli police and the army take up position. There’s even a section where the journalists stand. After the prayers, a group of youngsters inevitably start hurling water bottles, rocks, and glass at the officers who after a while, respond by charging into the crowd, arresting some of the protestors, and firing stun grenades. It’s predictable.

Hamas, the rulers in Gaza, are egging on the protestors. The announcement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he was postponing Palestinian elections – the first in 15 years – indefinitely, and blaming Israel for it, didn’t help. Neither did the fact that this is happening during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a heightened time of religious sensitivity. It also comes after the Supreme Court was meant, on Monday, to give a ruling on the evictions of about 70 Palestinians from houses in the contested East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah that Jews say they owned before 1967. The court has delayed the announcement of its decision.

But still, the result is the worst violence in four years, and it has quickly spread to other Israeli Arab localities. The city of Lod just outside Tel Aviv is in lockdown. The Israeli army imposed a state of emergency after troops had to evacuate some Jewish residents amid clashes between Arabs and police and after buildings, including a synagogue, were set alight.

At the time of writing, five Israeli civilians and one soldier have been killed. The latter happened after Hamas fired an antitank missile at an Israeli jeep on Wednesday morning. One of the Israeli civilians killed was a pensioner who was too old to get to a shelter and who died alongside her Indian helper in their home.

Hamas has criticised Israel for trying to change the status quo in Jerusalem, but Israeli soldiers insist they are reacting only after coming under fire. They accuse Palestinian youngsters of shoring up stones, rocks, and homemade ammunition inside the Al Aqsa compound and attacking them with it.

But the international community is clearly more on the side of the Palestinians. Amnesty International has accused Israel of excessive force that I, as a journalist covering the protests, dispute. There are certainly some instances of the Israeli security forces manhandling and violently attacking protestors but on the whole, certainly outside Damascus Gate where I’ve been most of the week, it’s dangerous for the troops as they are provoked and hit with things that could seriously injure them if they weren’t wearing helmets.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he wouldn’t give in to rogue elements trying to disrupt Jerusalem, and in his latest speech has threatened that Hamas will pay a “dear price”.

I’m on the phone constantly with my colleagues in Gaza. One lives in the Hanadi Tower, a 13-storey residential building in Gaza city, that collapsed on Tuesday after Israeli air strikes targeted an office used by the political leadership of Hamas. An hour before the strike, residents were warned to leave their homes by the Israeli Defense Forces and hence there were no reports of injuries. But my colleague is now homeless.

I also have an Israeli friend who phoned me in tears. Her son is among the thousands of soldiers who have been called up to the Gaza border. It’s not yet clear if Israel plans a ground offensive but all options are on the table. Five thousand additional reserve troops have also been making their way to beef up the army in the southern Israeli communities and help those maintaining calm in Israeli cities across the country – Haifa, Ramle, Akko, Beer Sheva, and others.

While between 80% to 90% of rockets fired from Gaza – and to date there have been more than 1 200 in total – have been shot down by Israel’s anti-missile defence system, the Iron Dome, many Israeli civilians are choosing to move to the north out of harm’s way – hopefully.

Several of those I interviewed blame American President Joe Biden for the flare-up. After he took office in January, Biden expressed little interest in pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. He’s also been reluctant to get involved in the current conflict, but is being urged to do so. The clashes have caught his administration on the back foot. By comparison, the Trump administration showed unstinting support for Netanyahu and hostility towards the Palestinians.

“If Trump was in office now,” many Israelis tell me, “the Palestinians would be too scared to act like they are now. But they know Biden won’t do anything!”

Come tonight – and probably for the rest of the week – I’ll be sleeping in my bomb shelter, as will hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Gazans, too, will be hunkering down where they can find shelter. No-one wants another war; but then again no-one’s being asked.

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Mount Meron tragedy devastates South African family

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Yohanatan Hevroni was so excited about going to Mount Meron for Lag B’Omer after not having been there for seven years, he arranged a bus for his community to get there. This time, he went as a beloved husband and the father of three girls. He wouldn’t return alive.

The 27-year-old tzaddik who lived in Givat Shmuel in central Israel leaves behind his children and wife, Tanya Hevroni (nee Taback), who made aliyah with her family from Johannesburg in 1997.

Hevroni was one of the 45 people who died senselessly in a stampede at the annual Mount Meron Lag B’Omer celebrations on Thursday, 29 April, the largest peacetime tragedy in Israel’s existence.

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report from the shiva house on Tuesday, 4 May, Tanya’s brother, Eitan Taback, described how events unfolded.

“A rabbi told us that on the way there, Yohanatan said how amazing it was to see the influence a tzaddik had after he had died [referring to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whose life is celebrated by thousands on Lag B’Omer at Mount Meron]. And after Yohanatan passed, we saw the amount of influence he had on everyone around him – the children he taught, people with whom he learned Torah.

“At 03:00 on Thursday night, Yohanatan’s mother got a phone call from his phone,” said Taback. “They said ‘his phone had been found in Meron, but we can’t find him’. Immediately, search parties were sent to hospitals and Meron itself. No one had any answers. After searching everywhere, they decided, with heavy hearts, to check the morgue, and that’s where they found him.”

Kalanit Taub, a volunteer emergency medical worker with United Hatzalah of Israel, described the devastation she encountered at the scene. “We saw stretcher after stretcher coming up the hill, with people performing CPR on them as they were running. I just saw bodies lying on the ground to my left and right. They all looked completely whole, completely fine, no broken bones, no blood. When we learned about [dealing with] a mass casualty incident, the first thing you’re supposed to do is treat the injured because those are the ones you’re more likely to save. But I didn’t see anyone injured. All I saw was people who weren’t breathing, who didn’t have a heartbeat. I thought, ‘Where are the injured people? Everywhere you look, everybody’s dead!’

“There was nothing we could do for any of them, we all tried our hardest, and we were completely unsuccessful,” she said. “The line of bodies kept getting longer and longer. Within seconds, they were out of body bags. We were taking thermal blankets to cover these people. And then we were out of thermal blankets. We didn’t have anything to cover the bodies with. There were just too many of them.”

Taub is also a member of the psycho-trauma unit. “I walked up the hill, and there were so many people in shock. People screaming hysterically, staring into space, and lying on the ground in foetal positions, unresponsive. I probably treated a hundred psycho-trauma patients. Meanwhile, [community emergency response team] ZAKA set up a tent that became the station where all the lost kids went. They were just naming kids one after the other separated from their parents. But not all were reunited because some of those parents died.”

By a miracle, Hevroni’s family managed to arrange his funeral for that day at 17:00. Because it was just before Shabbat, they expected few people to attend. But thousands arrived to pay their respects.

“The extent of his impact on people was so clear,” said Taback. “One rabbi bought a book of poems that Yohanatan wrote. They were about the simple things in life, and recognising the good in all other human beings. One of his students shared how he came to learn with Yohanatan and be inspired by him, but after their lesson, it was Yohanatan who told his student that he was inspiring.”

He described his brother-in-law as a “quiet guy, with a gentle soul, who always had a huge smile on his face”. He and Tanya married in Israel and went on to have three daughters, aged six, four, and two. They celebrated their eldest daughter’s sixth birthday a few days before the tragedy. “It would be the last celebration we would have together. There was so much happiness,” Taback said.

Two years ago, the family faced a major crisis when Tanya was diagnosed with cancer. “Yohanatan was there the whole time. He was a full-time father and mother. Now it’s the other way around. Tanya will have to be both the mother and the father.”

He said his parents, Ofra and David Taback, have been by his sister’s side from the moment they heard that Yohanatan was missing. “My parents are strong. They’re trying to be there for Tanya and the family. They’ve been here night and day.” Family around the world have joined in their grief.

Taback said his sister is devastated, but the support of the community had helped tremendously. “One thing we can take from this is that the Jewish nation will always unite in these situations. We must be there, one for each other, as brothers and sisters are meant to be,” said Taback. “Just be good to each other. We don’t need to wait for disasters to unite us. As the Jewish people, that’s who we are.”

Meanwhile, young South Africans on a gap year in Israel said the disaster had hit close to home. Many of their contemporaries attended the celebrations at Mount Meron. Dean Chaitowitz, who is at Yeshiva Eretz HaTzvi in Jerusalem, said he would have been there if enough boys from his yeshiva wanted to go.

“It wasn’t an official yeshiva trip, but they said that if there are enough kids, they’ll organise a bus to go. I’m trying to absorb as much of Israel as possible on my gap year, so I wanted to go. But in the end, there wasn’t enough of a demand. I was upset that I didn’t go, but when we found out what happened, I was shocked. I could easily have been there; our whole group would have gone. Hearing about yeshiva boys getting killed really hit hard, just knowing that it could literally have been any of us.”

Dani Sack who studying is at the Midreshet HaRova seminary in Jerusalem, said, “My group wasn’t going to go to Meron, but hearing about the tragedy nonetheless was a huge shock to the system, especially since some of our friends were planning to go.

“It was jarring considering we’d been so close to Meron, and also celebrated with dancing and singing that night. The fact that so many of those wounded and killed were young people put into perspective the magnitude of what a gap year entails. Being away from family is scary enough, but to think that a simple celebration on Lag B’Omer could turn deadly is terrifying.

“At Midreshet HaRova, we sang and said tehillim at the Kotel in honour of those who were killed. All the Torah we learned on Sunday was l’iluy nishmat [for the elevation of the soul] of the 45 we lost. In Israel, the mood over Shabbos and the weekend was solemn. You could feel the loss in the air. It’s really surreal being here during this moment, something that the Jewish national will remember forever.”

To support the family of the late Yohanatan Hevroni, please visit: https://givechak.co.il/yeonatan/en

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Chief rabbi calls JSC questioning ‘racist and antisemitic’

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Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein this week was appalled at the “conduct of the commissioners of the Judicial Service Commission [JSC] in their questioning of two Jewish judges [over the past weeks]”. He described it as “racist and antisemitic in effect, if not in intention”.

Judge David Unterhalter was grilled about his short association with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his interview with the JSC. He was being interviewed for a position on the Constitutional Court. Similar queries were directed at judicial candidate Advocate Lawrence Lever who is standing for a position in the Northern Cape, including if he observed Shabbat.

“The Jewish candidates were the only ones subjected to questions relating to religious identity and practice,” said the chief rabbi. “The direct implication of their questions was that a Jewish judge who is a Zionist or observes Shabbat would be disqualified from holding high judicial office.

“This violates the letter and spirit of our Constitution. It’s morally and legally repugnant for officers of the JSC to discriminate against any candidate on the basis of their religious identity. They should all be ashamed of themselves,” the chief rabbi said.

He called on JSC commissioners including the minister of justice to retract and apologise for their comments. “And I also call on President Cyril Ramaphosa to return the list to the JSC as the Constitution allows him to do on the grounds that aspects of the hearing exhibited discriminatory questions which cast a shadow on their entire process. Racist conduct can never be condoned,” Goldstein said.

The SAJBD also described the JSC’s questioning of both men as “discriminatory and anti-constitutional”.

“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,” said SAJBD National Director Wendy Kahn. “Advocate Lever was asked about his level of religious observance, specifically whether he observes Shabbat. It was made clear that this observance would be problematic for his appointment.

“It should also be noted that no other candidate was questioned on their religious practices, except those of the Jewish faith. Christian candidates weren’t asked about working on Christmas, nor were Muslim candidates asked about working on Friday afternoons or Eid,” said Kahn. “It’s also extremely disturbing that questions posed to both Advocate Lever and Judge Unterhalter focused extensively on their possible association with the Board. Nearly all Jews in South Africa have some association with [it]. One wonders why a body mandated with protecting constitutionally sound principles of religious freedom and fighting hate would be so objectionable to members of the JSC panel,” she asked rhetorically.

“Equally concerning were questions posed to the two Jewish candidates regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Kahn. “Both were questioned on their stance on the two-state solution. It’s difficult to understand how a conflict of this nature has intruded into this forum. No Muslim candidates were questioned on the issue.

“From the questions Jewish candidates were asked at the JSC interviews this month, one would question whether those bent on pursuing an antisemitic agenda are beginning to influence key decision-making bodies unduly. We call on all South Africans to stand up and protect these constitutional values, and reject all forms of discrimination.”

Rabbi Greg Alexander, the co-chairperson at the South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED), didn’t hold back on his opinion of the interviews. “There is little doubt that there was flagrant discrimination at the recent JSC hearings. This is specifically concerning the two Jewish candidates being interviewed.”

“Had such religious or cultural questions been asked of others of another faith, it would undoubtedly have sounded an alarm and disgusted those observing,” said SACRED co-chairperson Rabbi Julia Margolis. “However, we now face a doubly-disgusting situation in that such questions arose in the first place, and secondly, that only one religion, faith, or culture appears to have been deliberately targeted.

“This suggests that the very foundation of South Africa’s democracy is under threat, and one cannot help recalling the late Nelson Mandela’s voice: ‘I have fought against white domination, and I will fight against black domination.’ The determination of the late, great statesman to fight for absolute equality and against discrimination of any kind should be brought front and centre at this time. Those who raise such blatantly discriminating questions should be publicly shamed for doing so.”

“There does appear to be some prejudice in the questioning from the JSC,” said Mark Oppenheimer, an advocate at the Johannesburg Bar. To question a Jewish advocate about their observation of the Sabbath “is a weird thing to ask, given that there have been many Jews on the courts over the years, and you wouldn’t ask a Christian whether they could do their job given that they might go to church on Sunday, or a Muslim who needs to go to prayers on a Friday. So there is either antisemitism or anti-Zionism, or a great deal of ignorance. With Judge Unterhalter, it’s unclear if this was an excuse to try and block him, or whether it was the reason he wasn’t nominated further.”

Writing in Business Live, Tony Leon, the former leader of the opposition, said, “In the dismissal of Unterhalter’s claims for judicial advancement, his membership of the ‘suspect class’ of his race was fused with his religious affiliation. Thus, the JSC interviewers gave little airtime to Unterhalter’s credentials, which include being the first South African ever appointed to the appellate body of the World Trade Organisation, where he served as chairperson for two years.

“Courtesy of a bile-ridden tissue of vitriol against him authored by the Qatar-funded Boycott, Disinvest and Sanction outfit, Unterhalter landed up spending much of his time offering his views on Zionism (not in the remit of the court) and his one-time membership of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies,” continued Leon. “According to BDS, the century-old Board, whose leadership is democratically and transparently elected, is akin to the Broederbond. Mere membership of this community body rendered Unterhalter unfit for higher judicial office in the view of BDS, a matter the JSC seemed to endorse.”

The JSC recommended Lever for a vacant judge’s position in the Northern Cape. It also recommended lawyer Norman Manoim for a vacancy on the Gauteng High Court bench. Both are to be referred to President Cyril Ramaphosa for appointment. Meanwhile, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution is reportedly considering legal options regarding the recent interviews by the JSC for candidates for appointment to the Constitutional Court.

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report, Manoim said, “It’s a great honour to be able to serve. I’ve been in public service for a long time – on the Competition Tribunal for 20 years as a public regulator – and I wanted to be able to continue serving.”

As a human rights lawyer before 1994, Manoim said he hoped to bring “the perspective of a lawyer who has worked with and without a Constitution”. He also wants to emphasise the importance of institutions in society. “We as a country must ensure our institutions work properly and independently, and we must work to protect them,” he said.

He said it was important for people who had the opportunity to serve in public office, to do so. “It’s easy to criticise society – and we do have many problems. But we must get our hands dirty and contribute towards solutions. As an optimist, I think we can solve our problems – we always have. So we must put ourselves in whatever role we can be useful in. This community has people with a wide range of skills and talents. We must get involved in whatever sphere we can to make a real difference.”

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