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Passage to Partnership: Bar Association Visit to Israel Paves the Way for an Exchange Program with a Global Perspective

by Jane L. Dalton

Summer 2007, Vol. 70, No. 2


Since its creation in 1948, Israel has, amazingly, operated without a constitution. Its Supreme Court decisions are based on an agreed upon set of basic principles and, in the absence of precedent, what is "fair." The country's legislative body, the Knesset, also maintains a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. On my recent trip to Israel with other Bar Association leaders, we observed a meeting of the committee as its members debated vigorously back and forth in Hebrew over a proposed law. The bill under discussion was a campaign finance law that would require candidates to disclose who funded their campaigns. After several minutes, the committee stopped and addressed their American visitors — asking us what we did in the United States. Without hesitation, we recommended disclosure.

LAW AND DEMOCRACY

Throughout our journey, the subtle differences between the Israeli and U.S. legal systems became increasingly clear. Yet, ingrained in both traditions is a firm commitment to the rule of law. So when the Israeli Bar contacted our Association last year about beginning an attorney-exchange program, it seemed an ideal opportunity for American and Israeli lawyers to explore the commonalities of their practices as well as the alternative structures of justice and democracy in each others' countries. I was joined by former Chancellor Alan Feldman, Chancellor-Elect A. Michael Pratt, Vice Chancellor Sayde Ladov, Executive Director Ken Shear and Villanova law professor Abraham Gafni for a ten-day tour of Israel and its legal system to establish the groundwork for an attorney-exchange program. We began our visit in Tel Aviv with an overview of the Israeli bar's professional requirements to determine the best format for the exchange.

THE ISRAELI LEGAL SYSTEM

In Israel, after graduation from high school, all male students (other than Orthodox Jews, who are conscientious objectors) and female students who volunteer serve for two years of active service in the Israeli army. After the two years of military service, they apply directly to law school, which is a four-year program. They then serve a one-year preceptorship with a law firm where they primarily perform legal research. After passing oral and written bar examinations, they are eligible to practice law.

Under the proposed exchange program, Israeli lawyers would come to Philadelphia after their one-year preceptorship. Our lawyers would go to Israel after graduating from law school and probably after taking the bar exam, and they would most likely work on civil and commercial matters.

The Israeli Bar is divided into several major geographical divisions, including the Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Southern and Northern districts, which have their local officers in addition to the officers of the mandatory national bar. We met many bar leaders upon our arrival in Tel Aviv, including Shlomo Cohen, president of the Israel Bar; Joseph Toussia-Cohen, chair of the Jerusalem District of the Israel Bar; Rachel Ben Ari, the chair of the Haifa District Bar; and Khaled Zoabi, president of the Northern District and the first Arab to be elected chair of a district bar.

While this was not my first visit to Israel, I found that the focus of this trip gave me an opportunity to see a different side of the country. Previously, I had visited Israel in 1982 as part of a delegation hosted by the American Jewish Committee that also included Ed and Midge Rendell and Joe and Francesca Hoeffel, as well as in 1989 on a church trip with my youngest sons, Kirwan and Kyle.
Although we were fortunate enough to do some site seeing, this trip was much more directed to law, lawyers and businesses in Israel. I was reminded on this trip of how small Israel is and how diverse. Its neighbors include Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Each of my visits has impressed upon me the difficulties facing the Israeli people. In a relatively short time, millions of Jews from other countries have immigrated to a country where, by virtue of its history, many Arabs have lived for generations. In some communities, there is harmonious intermixing. But in many others, the relationships are strained and often worsened by the threat of the violence that we see almost daily in the news. Notwithstanding the tension surrounding their daily lives, the Israelis we met on our visit welcomed us warmly.

NORTHERN ISRAEL AND THE RELIGIOUS COURTS

The following day, we traveled to Haifa, in northern Israel. Due to Haifa's location near the Lebanese border, it bore the brunt on the Israeli side of the 2006 conflict. I was surprised that we could still see damage from the missiles that came from Lebanon last summer. One portion of the courthouse and some other buildings in Haifa had not yet been repaired.

In Haifa, the civil family court is in a new building. It has a spectacular two-story–high, wide hallway with lots of glass connecting the many one-story courtrooms on both levels. This state-of-the-art building was a striking contrast to our decentralized family court facilities in Philadelphia.
We also visited the Islamic Court in Haifa, which was in a building that was similar to our municipal buildings. Israel’s religious courts are a legacy from the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the region until the end of World War I. When Britain acquired the territory, it left intact the religious courts, which still exist today. Matters of marriage and divorce are the exclusive domain of the religious courts: there are Rabbinical (Jewish), Sharia (Muslim), Druze (different Christian denominations) and Ba'hai courts. The judges of the religious courts do not have to be lawyers. The language in those courts is the language of the particular religion. If people of different religions want to marry, they have to do so outside of the country. Matters other than marriage and divorce can be determined either by the applicable religious court or by the civil family court. The court where the matter is filed first has jurisdiction. The Israelis call this race to the courthouse the "jurisdictional run." Once a tribunal has jurisdiction, a dissatisfied party cannot request a rehearing before an alternative jurisdiction.

In the Sharia court, we watched a hearing on a former wife's request for support from her husband. It was conducted in Arabic. The judge took the matter under advisement, just as often happens here. What amazed me was the court reporter. I cannot believe that she recorded a word for word transcript of the proceedings. She used an unusual hunt and peck technique, typing only with her two index fingers. Often, while the lawyers were talking, her hands were not moving. It was also surprising to learn that many of our hosts from the Haifa District bar association had never been in an Islamic court before.

After the hearing, we met with Judge Adnan Adawi, who presided, and the President of the Sharia Appeals Court, Ahmad Natour, who was most impressive. Most of the judges in that court are lawyers. Natour described for us how many of the cases ruled on by these courts, including the one we had observed, deal with divorce proceedings and division of assets. Natour also shared the court's frustrations about the Supreme Court on occasions reversing decisions of the Islamic Court.

THE SUPREME COURT

On our next stop in Jerusalem, we met Chief Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court Dorit Beinisch, who also commented on the tension between the religious and civil courts. We had a wonderful meeting with Beinisch that lasted more than the allotted one hour, and she was surprisingly down-to-earth and generous with her time. Before we could relay Natour's comments from our earlier meeting, Beinisch told us that the Supreme Court will overrule the religious courts where there is a serious procedural or substantive error. She said the Islamic court is overruled on a few occasions, but the Jewish courts are overruled much more frequently.

When we toured the Supreme Court, the building appeared to be relatively new. There was ample seating in the court rooms, and the justices usually sit in panels of three. I was surprised by the authority given to the Israel Supreme Court. Beinisch and the lawyer we met with from the Foreign Affairs office both indicated that when Israel began building the controversial border wall near the West Bank and through Jerusalem, many homeowners appealed to the courts to challenge its location — presumably they wanted to be on one or the other side. The Supreme Court heard more than 300 appeals on this issue and ordered the military to move the wall in more than 100 cases. And the military moved it. Although the Foreign Affairs officer told us the fence has been tremendously successful in cutting down on acts of terrorism — by as much as 95 percent — the wall's existence remains a core controversy in the modern Arab-Israeli conflict.
Despite security improvements, we found that the mosque at Dome of the Rock, which I had visited on my earlier trip with my sons, was closed to tourists. According to religious texts, this is the site where Abraham offered Isaac to God and Mohammad rose into heaven on his horse. On my earlier trip, I went into the mosque where Muslims were praying. Non-Muslims were not permitted this time because the congregants were upset by certain archeological explorations under the mosque being undertaken by the Israeli government.

When we returned to Tel Aviv for the concluding leg of our trip, we learned from our hosts that there are no continuing legal education requirements for lawyers in Israel. Nevertheless, we were invited to one seminar, "Hi-Tech Cooperation Between Israeli and American Lawyers," which was quite well attended. The technology and patent lawyers were not familiar with the Philadelphia business and legal communities. I explained that our region is an incubator for emerging companies. Apparently, they looked up statistics about our region because at our next meeting, they said we were correct, and we were on par with Boston. It was a pleasure to put Philadelphia "on their map."

EXPLORING THE POTENTIAL FOR PARTNERSHIP

My experience in Israel underscored for me the value in the free exchange of ideas and experiences, particularly in the practice of law. We expect our lawyers will learn about Israel's economy as well. Israel "exports" more than 50 percent of its developing companies. Our lawyers would learn about how these transactions are marketed and should identify Philadelphia as a place where quality legal services are available at more economical rates than in New York City or Washington, D.C. The Israel Bar Association hopes that Israeli lawyers will perfect their English, learn about legal requirements in the United States and also begin to become familiar with legal issues on an international basis. I hope that by establishing an exchange program with the Israeli bar, the law firms and practitioners in both legal communities will become an even greater presence on the international stage and subsequently bring that global perspective to their practices.

Chancellor Jane Dalton is a partner in the law firm of Duane Morris LLP. Her e-mail address is chancellor@philabar.org.