Manitoba students learn about Israeli legal system

Bryan Schwartz

WINNIPEG — It was three weeks of non-stop highlights for the 40 mostly University of Manitoba law students who took part this spring in the fifth annual Mishpatim program, an academic partnership between U of M’s law school and Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“I found myself on the edge of my seat throughout our lectures,” said law student Alex Robertson. “Prior to attending this trip, I had never been to Israel, and I had a very cursory knowledge of the history and issues Israelis face. I have come away with a far greater understanding and appreciation for the history, along with the challenges and amazing accomplishments, of the Israeli people and the State of Israel.”

The Mishpatim program focuses on the nature of the Israeli legal system and how Israel applies its constitutional and regulatory framework to its social and economic challenges, then compares them with the Canadian experience. 

Areas of study include Israel as a “start-up nation” and its rise as a world leader in high-tech innovation, as well as its challenges integrating into the mainstream economy groups such as ultra-Orthodox Jews and various Arab minorities, in addition to newcomers from Ethiopia, refugees from Darfur and guest workers. 

Robertson’s fellow law student Sara McGregor said she was “truly impressed with the quality of instruction that my fellow participants and I received during our time at Hebrew University. In addition to our daily lectures, the guest speakers and field trips that were arranged for our benefit were truly eye-opening.” 

She said she particularly enjoyed the visits to the Knesset and Israel’s Supreme Court, as well as a stop at Yad Vashem near the end of their time in Israel. 

“I learned so much about Israel, its history and people, as well as the country’s hopes for the future in a way that I never could have from here in Canada,” she said. 

U of M law student Sherry Brown said the program far exceeded her expectations. “Seeing the country of Israel was simply breathtaking,” she said. “The course was interesting and thought-provoking. The topics that were covered helped to provide context to the whole experience.”

She particularly enjoyed learning about start-up businesses. “Concepts like business incubators were new to me and exciting,” Brown said. “The information we received in class and then having the opportunity to meet with start-up companies in Tel Aviv sparked a new area of interest for me. Since coming back to Canada, I have been taking note which law firms work with start-up companies and what that might entail.”

Mishpatim was conceived by U of M law professor Bryan Schwartz, in conjunction with the Winnipeg chapter of the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University (CFHU). Schwartz has been with U of M’s law faculty since 1981. In 1999, he became the inaugural Asper Professor of International Business and Trade Law. He’s also the founding and general editor of the Asper Review of International Business and Trade Law and has been a board member of the Winnipeg chapter of the CFHU for many years.

“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,” Schwartz said.

 “We are hoping 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.” 

The program’s inaugural year consisted of about 20 U of M law students. This year, the 40-person group, which left for Israel May 3, also included two U of M business students and three law students from the University of Saskatchewan.

Schwartz’s goal is for Mishpatim to become a national program for both law and business students from across Canada. “We are also hoping to open the program up to practising lawyers and businessmen,” he added.