The Empire Strikes Back

By Craig Snoyman

I am sure that there are at least some of you who remember Star Wars. It’s about the only movie from my early youth that I can remember. Luke Skywalker and his robot sidekicks find a holographic plan and then together with Hans Solo and Chewbacca take on a mission to rescue Princess Leia from the dark forces of Darth Vader and the Evil Galactic Empire. Luke got some help from the Jedi as well. Empire Storm-troopers were running around causing havoc with the Forces of Light. Thanks to Princess Leia’s secret plan, Luke blows up the Empire’s death ship. We all loved that movie; I was so invested in that movie; the movie was me! But came the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. Leia is again captured and Hans is frozen into carbonite and Luke fights against Darth Vader (“The Force is strong in this one”) and barely escapes, high-tailing  back into hiding. We were left hanging on for the next part of the trilogy.

Well, that’s kind of how I feel now. I am invested in the unfolding story of the discriminatory behaviour toward Judge David Unterhalter, the reply of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and the response of the Judicial Services Commission, (JSC). I previously wrote an article about the JSC interview of Unterhalter, which appeared in Lay Of The Land, and far as I am aware, it was the first article which alleged that Unterhalter had been discriminated against because he was Jewish.  The SAJBD, either had their own R2D2 android with holgraph article/plan or used the “Lay of the Land” article/plan to attack the Evil storm-trooping JSC and the dark forces lurking within it. The SAJBD did get some help from the Chief Rabbi who also condemned the Evil Empire and its JSC in a front-page newspaper article. It seemed that the evils of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism had been brought out into the light and would be condemned for the dark forces that they are.

Judged on his Jewishness. Judge David Unterhalter was grilled about his involvement with the SAJBD, which in a letter of complaint to the JSC, the loosely formed coalition accused the SAJBD of being “akin to the Broederbond” serving as a “conservative organisation that supports and minimises the actions of the Israeli apartheid state.”

But then the JSC struck back! No, that can’t be it, storm-troopers aren’t allowed independent thought. Some part of the Empire, using its JSC stormtrooper, struck back. The JSC doubled down on its previous behaviour and published a Press Release where it accused the SAJBD of lying, sorry, stating:

 “the SAJBD statement is factually inaccurate.”

It proceeded further to state that the Commissioners were not allowed to ask discriminatory and anti-constitutional questions.  Once again, the forces of darkness denied that they were the forces of darkness.  And it used its light-sabre just once too often. It   proceeded to make one of the darkest, most disturbing statements that has even come out of the galaxy far, far away at the bottom of Africa:

“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.”  And with that, the forces of darkness climbed back under the galactic rock that has pursued us for so long.  

What does one say to a commissioner who states that you cannot become a judge because you belong to a Jewish communal organisation? How different is it from the Jews being excluded from trade guilds in the Middle Ages? Or could join if they converted? Perhaps this analogy is not exactly apposite. So, let me try this one: does anybody remember a Law enacted called the “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service”? Perhaps if I mentioned the name of the law in its native language, the consequences would immediately become apparentGesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentumsa law which was essentially aimed at ensuring that Jews, other non-Aryans, and political opponents could not serve as teachers, professors, judges etc. These positions should be given to Aryans. Admittedly, this law was not immediately put into effect. Not the same? OK, but we are seeing similarities between the directive to racially transform South Africa and the Nazi laws of the 1930’s.

Hanging in the Balance. Jews are questioning their stake in a South Africa  that today subjects its Jewish applicants for judicial positions to questions about their Jewish identity, the Palestine-Israel conflict and their views on the ‘two-state solution’. (Stock photo.Image: 123RFEvgenyi Lastochkin)

Perhaps the analogy works better on a personal level. One of the finest constitutions in the world, the South African constitution unequivocally states that every individual will not be discriminated against, directly or indirectly, on the basis of religion. Further, every individual has freedom of association.  The JSC acknowledged that Unterhalter, as a Jew had a position at a lawful, civic-minded Jewish institution, but sought to vindicate his behaviour by showing that he had resigned. ‘The Evil Empire’ storm-troopers, sorry ‘The JSC’ – don’t they sound the same? – denies any unconstitutional or discriminatory questioning with ‘The Dark Side’ stating that other non-Jewish candidates were also questioned about their religion. It’s true, there were three non-Jewish candidates out of 79 candidates who were asked about their religion. One candidate talked about his church’s social activism during Apartheid and was asked a single question about it. Another candidate had written a religious article in a Christian lifestyle magazine and had a case on appeal which related to a church matter. He was asked if his religious beliefs influenced him. The third candidate was asked about her church-going activity and whether she was “ecumenical” or “ecclesiastic”. There were no questions about the religious associations to which they belonged or whether their religious proclivities would affect their work.

So, were the questions offensive? Possibly.

However, the questions put to Lever and Unterhalter were not “possibly” offensive, they were Unquestionably offensive.

Were the questions discriminatory – clearly!

Were they unconstitutional? “undoubtedly” may push the borders to far. It only my opinion , not judicially decided maybe “ It has to be!”

And as for the questioning being anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist, surely, this must be the only possible inference!

Another “non-discriminatory” and “constitutionally acceptable” question posed only to Unterhalter he had to give an answer to the Israel-Palestinian dispute. But then it would have been regarded as totally out of the ordinary to pose the question to any other candidate. While an issue of South African politics, the Middle East has nothing to do with South African law, so the question could only have been asked because Unterhalter is a Jew!  According to the European Union standards, this was an anti-Semitic question, it’s also a classic anti-Semitic canard. 

One other commissioner must have assumed that Unterhalter was a Zionist otherwise he would have had no reason to link Zionism with racism and then to ask Unterhalter whether an organisation opposing Zionism would be constitutional. This is an adaption of at least two anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist canards.

But let us not forget Lever, lest he feel ignored. This man has been acting as a judge for five years. However, at his interview he was asked whether Sabbath observance would affect his performance as a judge.

In a nutshell, of the 79 candidates, only two – Unterhalter and Lever – were subjected to offensive questioning about their religion, religious affiliations and Zionist inclinations.

They both just happen to be Jewish.

Picture Imperfect. Dr. Fritz Glaser in this 1925 painting by Otto Dix, was a lawyer in Dresden, Germany who later due to his faith was prohibited to practice after 1933.

But then the ‘Forces of Darkness’ attacked me as well. And I wasn’t even there! The JSC announced to the world that it has concerns that the SAJBDsupports Zionism which is viewed as a discriminatory form of nationalism”. This racist allegation serves only to show the incredible underlying prejudice that exists in the JSC.  The JSC has no basis and no legal authority to make such a defamatory pronouncement! It displayed a wanton disregard of the religious rights of, and lawful rights of association, of a recognised religion and its followers in South Africa. It is defamatory of virtually every Jew that prays for the restoration of Jerusalem every day as have millions of Jews over the past two millennia.

The SAJBD has asked for a meeting with this underling of ‘Force of Darkness’, but I remember what happened to Luke Skywalker when he fought Darth Vader, one-on-one.

Grand Inquisitor.  One of the most iconic villains in popular culture, the writer finds some resonance with Star Wars’ Darth Vader  in South Africa’s judicial process.

I don’t want this issue to end like the end of the second part of the trilogy. There was a sense of unease and the ‘Forces of Light’ were in retreat.  I want the Jedi to Return.  I want the death stars of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism wiped out. I want this ‘Evil Empire’ to be judged and rebuked. I want these Forces of Darkness to realise the evil of their ways. I want that the nations of this Empire to no longer fight our nation. I want them to turn their light-sabres of hate into plow-sabres of peace and tolerance and no longer lift their light-sabres against our nation and our beliefs. I want them to no longer learn the war of anti-Semitism anymore.

But if the Evil Empire and its lackeys won’t heed the lesson of Isaiah, and we do have to go into part three of the trilogy, then I want a JAPrincess Leyah, a Luke Chai-stalker, a Haim Solo, a Jewbacca and a team of Yid-i knights to step up to the plate and expose not only just the Storm-troopers, but  also the deathship as well, and forever defeat this Evil Force of Darkness  – speedily in our days, kayn ye’he ratzon!(Let it be so).

About the writer:

Craig Snoyman is a practising advocate in South Africa.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

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