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Sunday, August 31, 2014

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U of M law students tour Israel

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Bryan Schwartz

WINNIPEG — A group of first-year University of Manitoba law students saw a “different side of Israel” on a recent tour of the country sponsored by the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (CFHU).

During the three-week tour this past May, the students learned about the Israeli legal system, its constitutional developments and its interaction with international law.

The students’ agenda included lectures about the role of the Supreme Court in Israeli society; laws that protect intellectual property in Israel; Jewish and family law; the basic nature of international law generally, and trade law in particular, as well as current challenges involving the mix of politics and business in the area of trade relations.

“We were able to visit the Supreme Court of Israel, test-drive electric cars at Better Place [a company that aims to bring affordable electric cars to the mainstream] and hear from a legal adviser to the IDF counterterrorism division,” said Alexandra Miles, one of the students who went on the tour.

“Each of these experiences, along with many others, presented a different side of Israel and reflected the struggles that the nation faces and the solutions that are being implemented to address those issues.”

The tour was part of the Mishpatim program, which was founded last year by U of M law professor Bryan Schwartz, in conjunction with the Winnipeg chapter of the CFHU. Schwartz, who has been on U of M’s faculty of law since 1981, is the inaugural Asper Professor of International Business and Trade Law.

Schwartz, who led the tour, said that “Israel has had to face many of the challenges – often at an especially intensive and complicated level – that Canada has had in respecting individual and minority rights in general, and in the particular context of addressing security threats, including terrorism.

Miles said the trip was an invaluable opportunity to get to know Israel’s legal system and in particular, its nascent constitutional framework. “The program provided a wide variety of experiences that coalesced to demonstrate the unique features of Israeli society,” she said.

For student Caroline Reimer, the tour was a “life-changing experience. It exceeded my expectations,” she said.

“We are hoping,” Schwartz said, “that the lessons learned will give Canadian students much to think about in terms of lessons to be emulated or avoided in addressing some of the comparable problems in Canada – itself a society with traditional peoples, such as First Nations citizens, many newcomers from all over the world, and interested in developing a culture of risk-taking and innovation.”

Last year, the inaugural year of the program, the group consisted entirely of U of M law students. This year, the 23-person group also included two Asper School of Business students and three law students from the University of Saskatchewan.

The students heard lectures from an Israeli terrorism expert, an Arab Israeli clerking at the Supreme Court and a Druze professor. They visited Hebrew U, the University of Tel Aviv, the Technion, the Bahai Centre in Haifa, a Jewish Ethiopian absorption centre and a workers hotline, an NGO dedicated to protecting workers’ rights.

 “We are very grateful to the provincial government for its financial support this year, which is linked to its interest in having our students exposed to the various comparisons and lessons to be learned from Israel’s own successes and setbacks,” Schwartz said.

He added that the second tour has been more successful than the inaugural one because it “introduced students in both law and commerce to a wide range of issues that intertwine law, politics, sociology and economics. Our speakers and material were diverse in perspective. 

 “The hope is eventually to have a program that has a Manitoba core, but accessible to students across Canada in both law and business.”

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