Foreign students impressed by Israeli law record

“Israel doing an amazing job” dealing with the many conflicts on its border, says Siddhant Srivastava at StandWithUs conference.

Judge Richard Goldstone (photo credit: Reuters)
Judge Richard Goldstone
(photo credit: Reuters)
“Israel is doing an amazing job” dealing with the many conflicts on its border, Siddhant Srivastava said last week on the sidelines of the StandWithUs conference in Jerusalem for foreign students studying law or related fields.
Srivastava, one of 60 attendees, recently graduated from law school in India and is currently a researcher in the Indian High Court.
He added that New Delhi had tons of its own border conflict problems with China, Pakistan and Bangladesh and that he hoped to learn at the conference about Israel’s experience to better understand what options India could use to resolve them.
Srivastava said he was familiar with many of the international law challenges confronting Israel, as the subject of his law school moot court competition was the debate over the legality of Israel’s security barrier in the West Bank.
Still, he said, the conference had introduced him to many new issues and helped him understand other international law challenges with much greater depth and context.
Gerald Tham of Singapore said Israel presented a positive example of how a country could “defend its sovereignty,” a challenge Singapore also faced.
Tham, outgoing president of the International Board at the Asian Law Students’ Association, said Singapore was more cut off in some ways from the rest of the world than most nations.
He explained that part of the reason he joined the conference was to become more capable of initiating discussions among law students, throughout Asia, regarding international law issues in Israel.
Tham added that the conference had convinced him to spend more time studying international law in his final year of school.
Generally, he described his feelings toward Israel as overwhelmingly positive, mainly deriving from the close defense relationship between the two nations.
“Nothing is stated in public,” he said, but everyone knows that the defense establishments “are close.”
Germany’s Cinday Daase said she was writing her doctoral thesis on the legal implications of peace agreements between state and non-state parties, such as between Israel and the Palestinians.
She said that coverage of Israel was massive in her country.
For example, every time a major German official visited Israel, every detail of the visit was carefully followed and analyzed in the German media, as were sales of weapons from Germany to Israel.
Daase said she had been skeptical that StandWithUs would be able to select 60 high-caliber people from all over the world who would all meld together in one short week, but was impressed with how well the international nonprofit organization pulled it off.
She added that she also knew a lot about international law challenges for Israel, having read the entire International Court of Justice opinion on the security barrier.
While Daase is sympathetic to Israel’s position on a number of issues, she said the West Bank security barrier was difficult for her emotionally, because she had experienced a wall between countries growing up in East Germany before East and West Germany were unified.
The conference boasted a host of dynamic and high-credentialed speakers; among their notable presentations were two given by Dean of the Hebrew University Law School – and leading international law expert – Yuval Shany and former United Nations ambassador Gabriela Shalev.
Shany told the students that when deciding whether and where to criticize Israel, foreign observers should try to understand that most issues were involved balancing limited choices and the clash of human rights of different individuals.
He said that whenever a party advised Israel not to employ a particular defense because of the impact it would have on Palestinian or other foreign civilians, they needed to understand that there was a real-life cost to the rights of Israeli civilians.
Security may be reduced because terrorists may have greater room to operate.
Shany said those who criticized the Israeli judiciary needed to understand how hard it was for it to defend the rights of foreigners when there was no constitution to rest their rulings on, and that the anger on the Israeli street after terrorists attacks limited sympathy for “the other.”
In other words, every time a court defends the rights of foreigners and restrains the army, it may be taking a very uncomfortable stand against overwhelming public view for striking back against “the other” regardless of the collateral impacts on human rights and Palestinian or other foreign innocent civilians.
Shany said he did not by any means give Israel a perfect report card in the tactics it had used – for example, he believes there was no way to justify house demolitions, which many Israeli governments have endorsed – but that even criticism must understand Israel in context.
Shalev similarly sought to contextualize aspects of Israel’s involvement in the Middle East conflict, although she focused more on its experience in the UN.
She said it was important for foreign visitors to understand “how wrong” the critical view of Israel expressed by many in the UN was.
Shalev discussed her involvement in fighting back anti-Israel UN initiatives during Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in December 2008- January 2009), regarding the UN’s Goldstone Report on the Gaza conflict and regarding the 2010 Mavi Marmara protest flotilla.
The former UN ambassador added that one of the great privileges of her job had been showcasing Israel’s democracy and modernity as one of the few female ambassadors to the UN.
She said that she and US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice were good friends and they both showed the UN and the world that women could and should be working in the highest echelons of international organizations.
During a question and answer session, several female students said Shalev was a role model for them and a strong example of Israel’s commitment to human rights relating to women and other universal values.
Shalev nevertheless did not recoil from criticizing aspects of Israeli policy, such as what she called anti-peace statements by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.
After those words foreign students were ready to listen seriously to what was presented because they felt that they were given an uncensored version of the story. This was a sign of the success of the conference.
While the students thought that aspects of the tours they went on limited them to the Israeli side of the story – or side of the fence – they confirmed that they were impressed that StandWithUs had brought them speakers who were ready to criticize Israel – from the UN, the NGO Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement and others.
The students read this willingness to be introspective as a sign of strong democratic values.