Winnipeg Jewish Review Article: Mishpatim Program - University of Manitoba Law Students Study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem

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Winnipeg Jewish Review - Mishpatim headerJonah MozesonThis past May, I had the privilege of participating in the Manitoba Mishpatim program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  This program took 22 law students from the University of Manitoba to Israel to partake in an intensive, provocative, and engaging 3-week program on Israel’s legal system.  However, with the program taking place in Israel, it became so much more than any class we have ever taken; being immersed in Israeli society and exploring the country allowed us to appreciate its unique history, experience its intricacies first-hand, and better understand the issues facing Israel and the incredible people who inhabit it.  In this program, University of Manitoba Law students – who will be the community leaders of tomorrow – got the opportunity to truly know Israel, its democracy, and its legal system directly, and not through the prism of an often uninformed and biased media.

Academically, it is hard to imagine how any course for students could possibly match this one, both in terms of the calibre of presentations as well as observational experience.  We were exposed to many different perspectives on a wide variety of legal, political, and economic issues.  We were lectured to by leading academic experts in their legal fields, heard from top officials in the legal system and Foreign Ministry, and were taken on field trips from everywhere from an unrecognized Bedoin village in the Negev to a stunning high-tech success story.  These lectures and visits gave us all a fascinating perspective on Israel and the core issues facing Israeli society from a legal aspect; they were in-depth, informative, and of uncompromising quality and were marked by the ability of Israeli academics to describe and explain issues, especially such emotional ones, in a balanced and precise manner.  As one of the students, Gibrian Malicki Sanchez, said, “The topics were varied, relevant, and covered a broad spectrum of issues that were all pertinent to what Israel faces every day.”  After reading about Israel’s conflict with the Arab states for over half my life, it was fascinating to look at these core issues facing Israeli society through the lens of the law.  I am so proud that, as a Jewish student, I was able to study in Israel with contemporaries from law school and learn about Israel’s legal system, including its stresses and challenges as well as its successes.

Dr. Bryan ShwartzIn the program, we were exposed us to the challenges and triumphs of Israeli society and its legal system.  Even while the state of Israel is beleaguered by forces of ignorance, dishonesty, and double standards, Israel, like Canada, is a nation that guarantees human rights and dignity to all its citizens and has a legal system based on the principles of freedom, justice, and peace with equality and social and political rights for all its inhabitants.  We also learned that, like Canada, Israel has a duly-elected Parliament with representation from all facets of Israeli society that abides by the rule of law that is guaranteed by Israel’s independent, impartial Supreme Court.  Furthermore, learning about Israel’s somewhat similar yet also very different legal system helped us comparatively view that of Canada and demonstrated to all of us students that our two countries face similar challenges, although Israel’s tend to be more amplified, complex, and immediate; the lectures regarding security, public international law, “lawfare,” and others demonstrated to us that the issues that Israel is currently facing and struggling to deal with in a legal framework governed by the rule of law are issues that all of Western society are staring at, whether at the present moment or across the future horizon.  Learning about Israel’s legal system highlighted to many of us that law is not always a theoretical, academic exercise and that the law’s practical application is also of the utmost consideration in a democracy, especially one with the external and internal pressures faced by Israel.

A particular treat for me was the brilliant presentation from Daniel Taub, Director of the Law Division for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, where he reflected on his decades of experiences as a peace negotiator and advocate for Israel.  I feel privileged that I was able to hear from a man who has been at the forefront of every major juncture of the Middle East peace process – from Oslo to Camp David and from the separation barrier decisions to the Goldstone Report – for the last 20 years.  His discussion on the changing roles of legal advisors as the nature of the negotiations and the conflict changed was an interesting perspective for us aspiring lawyers on the various roles that we too may have to play in our future careers.
  
Israel’s high-tech, entrepreneurial culture and its connections to the fundamental nature of Israeli society were also emphasized.  Students were impressed that in a country with so many challenges and issues it must deal with, it is still a recognized world-leader in working towards better lives for many people, both within the country and without.  One of the speakers we heard from on this topic was Saul Singer, one of the authors of Start-Up Nation.  In his lecture, he discussed the narrative of his book and discussed how Israeli business has developed since its publication.  However, it was when speaking of the person to whom he dedicated his book, his brother who fell in Lebanon, that one of the greatest merits of the program was highlighted.  He gave his lecture just prior to the siren sounding for the start of Yom Ha’zikaron which made the experience all the more moving and compelling.  Having this program take place in Israel during which students got to experience Israel’s national days of mourning during Yom Ha’Shoah and Yom Ha’zikaron, and then see Israel at its best during Yom Ha’atzmaut, demonstrated to all of us students some of the essential characteristics of Israeli citizens in a moving way.  Seeing the way Israeli citizens react to these very important days of observance and celebration, especially in light of Israel’s unique history, was eye-opening when compared to how we observe and celebrate similar holidays in Canada.

Yet this was not the only reason why it was so important that the program took place in Israel.  Being taken to many of the places we were learning about was one of the greatest merits of the program and made it all the more comprehensive.  The free time and weekends also gave us the opportunity to explore Israel, see sites like the Old City, the Dead Sea, Masada, and others, as well as immerse ourselves in the culture of Israeli citizens in cafes, restaurants, bars, and markets; the ability of the students to experience what Israel has to offer as a modern country, similar to those in North America or Europe, and get to experience it first-hand made us fall in love with the country and gave us an understanding of the reality of day-to-day life for its citizens.  We learned from Israelis that while the country has its problems, there is no other place in which they would rather be living.  It was these aspects, along with hearing from many top Israeli legal thinkers who are experts in their fields, that made this a truly unique course.

After enjoying the course, the knowledge, and experiences it provided, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the program was the initiative of Bryan Schwartz, Asper Professor of International Business and Trade Law at the University of Manitoba, who accompanied us and provided academic and administrative guidance throughout.  All of the participant students are also greatly indebted to the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University whose very generous subsidies made the program accessible to the diverse cross-section of students who participated.  It was also wonderful living and learning on the stunning Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus and the university itself made us feel very welcome, especially Ofer Shiner, the Israel academic program coordinator, and Keri Rosenbluh, the Director of Summer Courses and Special Programs.  Dr. Mimii Ajzenstadt, the Provost, also made a special point of welcoming us to what was an open-minded and free academic exploration of Israel’s legal system – an aspect of the program we as law students appreciated and felt enhanced the value of the trip.

The students who came back from participating in the Manitoba Mishpatim program were truly impressed with the genuinely unique educational experience they were offered, Israel’s very interesting legal system, the nature of the country as a whole, and the citizens who live there.  All of us students now have the knowledge and understanding to be forthright voices for Israel in the battle against ignorance and bias to help better explain its legal system and policies to the broader Canadian public.  I can only hope that, in the years to come, this program is expanded so other Canadian law students will be able to participate in this truly extraordinary experience.

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