Hair today, what will tomorrow bring…
Jewish schoolboys like Jasen Smaller (Pic: Lilly Harmse) stood up for what they believe to be equal gender rights around the country over the past year, asking for the same hair rules for the guys & girls. Some wanted to be able to wear earrings. Moratoriums were placed on the hair issue while negotiations continued, or were resolved. Now talks seem to be over. King David is seemingly cracking down and insisting the kids cut their hair. Herzlia is expected to go the other route with an announcement forthcoming.
ABOVE: The title song of the famous ‘60s counter-culture rock opera, Hair, see lyrics below as well as a downloadable MP3 version of the song.
“Give me a head with hair… shoulder length or longer,” so went the title song of the ‘60s-era rock opera Hair. In the 21st century, however, the issue of boys wearing long hair (and other gender equality issues) have been a concern to high schools in particular – and secular Jewish day schools are in the thick of it.
King David in Johannesburg and Herzlia in Cape Town, have been engaging over the past year seeking solutions as to how they should move forward after both were approached by boys on the issue last year.
RIGHT: Many of the schoolboys – or in some cases their parents – were reluctant to be quoted or photographed for fear of being victimised at their schools. Jason Smaller, a true ‘rebel with a cause’ wasn’t, and neither were his parents (Pic: Lilly Harmse)
The problem is complex. King David Linksfield (KDL) boys say they have been on a quest for what they call “gender equality” (read: long hair and earrings) while on the Victory Park (KDVP) campus a five-person committee argue that people with intelligent minds analyse rules and don’t follow them blindly.
The hair policy, they say, stops boys from having autonomy. The KDVP committee dissociate themselves from the KDL learners’ position on broader gender equality as they feel it tarnishes what they stand for.
The strategies in the process of being adopted by King David and Herzlia, however, are quite the opposite of one-another.
At KDL some boys wearing long hair or “tuft”, a style which is long on top and short on the sides. This has proven itself particularly successful as some the Linksfield boys are suddenly sprouting kippot – not for religious reasons, but to hide their hair.
The hair issue is by no means confined to King David. Last year a school in Pretoria and two in Cape Town made headlines over this and other gender equality issues. And a Jewish matriculant at a small Catholic school in Johannesburg, (see sidebar), also fought for, and won, the right for boys to wear long hair.
Story continues below illustration
ABOVE: Four of the King David Victory Park learners who have taken full advantage of the moratorium they were given while discussions were taking place about a future policy regarding boys’ hair – PHOTOGRAPH: Facebook
At King David’s Victory Park campus, the situation has been one of “constructive engagement”, says Principal Andrew Baker. As it stands, the current Code of Conduct applies to all 10 schools within the SABJE umbrella.
Hair policy, however, is not included. It is school-specific, says Baker. “Linksfield High and VP High are currently aligning the wording of the school policies with regards to hair,” says Baker.
The current KDVP policy on boys’ hair reads: “Hairstyles must be neat and appropriate. For boys – hair should be cut neatly off the collar and the ears. In the case of boys with thick hair, please can it be thinned out appropriately. Neither long or spiky hair, shaven heads nor the colouring of hair is acceptable.”
The Jewish Report did not get access to the KDL policy, but a parent sent a several-year-old document which said simply that KDL boys’ hair: “should be off the ears and collar”. This, says learner Jasen Smaller who is refusing to cut his hair, “is being complied with”.
Baker, who took up his post in January 2016 had to deal with the issue of boy’s hair in his first few days at the school, having been “approached by some learners on “a very specific issue” – that of boys’ hair.
Thus begun what Baker refers to as a “very positive and amicable process of engagement without any animosity at all”.
Story continues below following anecdote
Small school quietly sets the ‘hair’ tone
Jeremy Crouch, who matriculated at Sacred Heart College in Observatory last year, took up the cudgels of the right for boys to wear their hair long – and won. Crouch – one of a number of Jewish learners at this Johannesburg Catholic school – said the issue of how long the boys’ hair could be, had been a hot topic at the school for years.
RIGHT: Jeremy with his proud mom Lisa Loeb
Crouch took this up with school headmistress Heather Blanckensee, who was very supportive of his efforts and, after discussions with the school board and parents, he says “we saw it as not necessarily opening the floodgates; we wanted to rather take it step by step. “I have very curly hair”, said Crouch. “And I would go to school with my hair tied tightly and lots and lots of clips.“Oftentimes the question of piercings (also) came up so we chose to only make it about hair,” says Jeremy.
In this way, the class of 2016 was paving the way for the naysayers to see it wasn’t so bad, and allowing space for future councils to deal with more gender issues, he says.The policy is now that both girls and boys can now wear their hair any length as long as it is in accordance with the school’s former girls’ rules.
At the school’s end of year prizegiving, Crouch was given a once-off Special Award “for the role he played in challenging the status quo, and making the way for change which enhanced the reputation of the school,” according to his mother. The wording engraved on the award are: “We will always remember you for your strong leadership and vision, helping others to find their voice, and serving them with humility.”
What is the legal position? Read SLIPPERY SLOPE: RIGHTS OF SCHOOLS VS. PUPILS also published on JR Online today.
LEFT: An online petition called “Update King David’s school rules to be gender neutral” and started by an anonymous student has drawn many signatures
This would most likely been seen as an act of respect and good faith by the learners and set the tone for the constructive nature of the year-long engagement that ensued.
“We are heading towards the final phase of the process,” Baker told Jewish Report.
KDL Principal Lorraine Srage, told Jewish Report this week that there was no new hair policy, only a clarification that they were legally and constitutionally able to enforce the existing code of conduct as it relates to boys’ hair.
“I have cut the sides of my hair shorter and am careful to not grow it beyond what can fit neatly under my Kippa,” says Jasen Smaller of KDL, who is one of many boys at the school, he says, who use the same trick to meet the school requirements on the one hand, but are able to adopt their individuality once out of school uniform.
Story continues below illustration
ABOVE: It’s as easy as one… two… three – King David Linksfield matric pupil Jasen Smaller shows how he hides his hair under a kippah – PHOTOGRAPH: SHIRA JACOBS
The schools had been challenged by boys regarding the hair policy last year, Srage explains. “We listened, we debated, we took counsel, and a decision was made.”
Srage says that “a cultural issue is fundamentally different” and that if any pupil’s requirement to act outside of the code of conduct “is underpinned by a religious or cultural requirement,” such as a boy not shaving due to a halachic commitment, the school would make an exception in these cases.
A different kettle of fish in Cape Town
Herzlia Schools in Cape Town are also involved in a similar process but both their approach, and the likely impending outcome, are completely different to that of King David Schools.
Marc Falconer, principal of Cape Town’s Herzlia High School (he was previously principal at KDL), rubbishes the concept of trying to enforce “colonial-type rules and regulations” on high schoolers in a manner which “would not have been out of place at the time of WWI”.
Falconer believes the status quo is “anachronistic” and that it is just a matter of time before all schools will have to review their policies “in this era of decolonisation and the modern education environment”.
Herzlia is presently looking at a proposal of “simple equality” between boys’ and girls’ hair regulations.
While Falconer agrees that “hair is the burning issue”, he believes that a far larger process of modernisation is required.
Herzlia’s Student Leader Council sent out a survey asking learners to air their views on allowing long hair for boys. An incredible 87 per cent responded, he says, and 85 per cent of those were in favour.
KDVP learners also conducted a poll and had over 74 per cent in favour of longer hair.
Herzlia’s Uniform Committee members, too, are on the cusp of finalising a new hair code. The principal has included representatives from the Student Leader Council to be “part of the decision-making process” and he believes the experiment has proven a huge success.
The learners have been able to “appreciate the time taken in consulting the various Herzlia stakeholders”, Falconer explains.
And, he says, “once a new policy is in place it will be up to the student leadership” to understand and uphold “their concomitant responsibility and maintain discipline” within the new rules and regulations.
Herzlia is not at the forefront of this issue in Cape Town, says the principal. “Some liberal schools such as Westerford and Camps Bay have already implemented gender neutral policies.”
Herzlia favours “peer leadership” policies, says Falconer. “We want them to take ownership.”
Back in Johannesburg: Last week KDL head of discipline, Tom Johnson, told some of the boys concerned that they had to cut their hair on the same day.
Jewish Report will keep our readers updated on this issue as the Jewish day schools publish their new policies.
- The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is a rock musical with a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot. A product of the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the late 1960s, several of its songs became anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement. The musical’s profanity, its depiction of the use of illegal drugs, its treatment of sexuality, its irreverence for the American flag, and its nude scene caused much comment and controversy at the time. The musical broke new ground in musical theatre by defining the genre of “rock musical”, using a racially integrated cast, and inviting the audience onstage for a “Be-In” finale.
Lyrics to the song ‘Hair’ from the Broadway hit
She asks me why, I’m just a hairy guy
I’m hairy noon and night, hair that’s a fright
I’m hairy high and low, don’t ask me why, don’t know
It’s not for lack of bread, like the grateful Dead, darlin’
Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me down to there, hair, shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there, momma, everywhere, daddy, daddy
Hair, flow it, show it
Long as God can grow, my hair
Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees
Give a home to the fleas, in my hair
A home for fleas, a hive for the buzzing bees
A nest for birds, there ain’t no words
For the beauty, splendor, the wonder of my hair
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow, my hair
I want long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty
Oily, greasy, fleecy, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen
Knotted, polka dotted, twisted, beaded, braided
Powered, flowered and confettied
Bangled, tangled, spangled and spahettied
Oh say, can you see my eyes if you can
Then my hair’s too short
Down with here, down to there
Down till there, down to where it’s stuck by itself
They’ll be ga-ga at the go-go, when they see me in my toga
My toga made of blond, brilliantined, biblical hair
My hair like Jesus wore it, Hallelujah I adore it
Hallelujah Mary loved her son, why don’t my mother love me?
Hair, flow it, show it
Long as God can grow
My hair, flow it, show it
Long as God can grow
My hair, flow it, show it
Long as God can grow
What really happened in Israel this week
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.
Mount Meron tragedy devastates South African family
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
Chief rabbi calls JSC questioning ‘racist and antisemitic’
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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