Scales of Justice symbol.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Is the Israel Bar Association trying to drive away olim with legal backgrounds? That was the impression of many who on Sunday took a Hebrew proficiency exam that blindsided them with a completely altered format.
According to lawyers who sat for the exam, about 50 candidates took the test and nearly all stormed out in shock, expecting that they had failed. The official results will be made known only in another month.
For years, the exam had three parts. Section 1 was a reading comprehension test; one of the requirements was to write an essay about the fact-pattern, which has always been the bane of foreign-trained immigrant lawyers. Section 2 required explanations of at least five legal terms out of a list of about 60, something they could memorize, even if their Hebrew was not strong.
Section 3 called for drafting a lease for an apartment – another section that could be memorized.
While candidates often failed the first section, many, even with mediocre Hebrew, passed the exam by virtue of scoring high on the second two sections.
This year, those two sections were scrapped or altered without warning – despite a special preparatory class provided by the Absorption Ministry that focused on the old version.
The second section, with the list of terms, was replaced by a second essay question, which made it impossible for some to finish the exam.
The third section, on the lease, was changed to an employment agreement; many of those taking the test had no idea how to cope with that scenario, having prepared only for the lease.
One of the main complaints about the new version was that foreign- trained immigrant lawyers often found the original to be overly difficult.
It should be pointed out that many of these people do not plan to practice in Hebrew and are simply seeking reciprocity for their foreign accreditation to facilitate formal job requirements or business issues.
To these olim, the Bar Association had never made it easy for them to work as lawyers in Israel.
Julie Grau, who studied law in France and then received an LLM degree in Israel, said that when she and the others asked the instructor during the Absorption Ministry preparatory course whether the test might be changed, they were told it would remain the same.
Grau said that when an employee of the Bar Association office was confronted, the employee denied that the exam had been changed, claiming there had been similar exams in the past. She added that when confronted with two essay questions, she was so surprised that she automatically assumed she could choose just one – it never occurred to her that she would need to answer both.
MK Sharren Haskel (Likud) has started to campaign on behalf of the immigrant lawyers, along with MK Eli Alalouf (Kulanu) and MK Ya’acov Margi (Shas). Haskel slammed the Bar Association for making the change without warning, which she said flew in the face of “the value of integrating olim into Israeli society and the work force.”
Grau said she thought it was because there’s a lawyer glut.
“They don’t want us to pass this year because there are too many lawyers,” she said. “We’ve chosen to live in this country; if you want me to come, let me do what I did [back in France].”
Laura Ennouchi, another foreign- trained immigrant lawyer, was also flabbergasted by the exam.
“I was really angry,” she said. “I had taken the course and then I was surprised. They want to make the exam more difficult.... I might go back to France. It’s not fair how we are treated. I would like to be in Israel, but maybe it’s too hard.”
Both Grau and Ennouchi said that many other candidates were considering leaving the country if the Bar Association did not fix the situation.
The Bar Association did not respond to repeated requests for comment.