One of the things we’ve learned in our time in Tel Aviv is that there is no “weather conversation” here; no matter if you’re talking to a friend at a bar or your taxi driver, politics are everywhere and everyone seems to have a strong opinion. As my fellow clinical student Nana observed, “everything is a hot-button issue.” Since arriving, we have been privy to debates about the role of women in Orthodox Israeli society, the laws on residence rights of Palestinians who marry Israelis, debates on the role of the Supreme Court, the high cost of living for young Israelis – just to name a few.
Within this context, we’ve managed to arrive during a particularly contentious moment in the politics of asylum law in Israel, as the country just passed a strict new law, authorizing the detention of undocumented immigrants for up to three years. Refugees and the debate over how they should be treated are currently at the forefront of Israeli politics, and we are right at the center of this national debate. Nana and I are at the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic and Lillian is at Ramat Gan Academic Center of Law and Business Clinic, but as we’ve learned, the community of practitioners here is extremely tight-knit and our supervisors often work in concert, both on specific cases and broader policy issues, including bringing a legal challenge to the recent legislation.
Asylum is a relatively new field of law in Israel, as it is only within the past ten years or so that non-Jewish refugees have begun to seek asylum here. The refugee population primarily comes from Africa, with the majority being from Sudan and Eritrea. What this means is that Israeli courts often look abroad to places like the U.S. for guidance on how to interpret the Refugee Convention. Because of this, our knowledge of asylum law from the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic is actually very relevant and useful, despite the fact that we worked a completely different country.
Though our primary work is focused on helping with this type of research for asylum petitions, we’ve also had the opportunity to do much more. One recent highlight was a trip to meet with Justice Salim Joubran on the Supreme Court of Israel. Justice Joubran is the only Arab Justice on the Court, and was very gracious to take the time to sit down and talk to us. He spoke with us about his vision of the relationship between the Court and Israeli society (yet another “hot-button issue”). One thing I was particularly struck by on our tour of the Court was how the shelves lining the Supreme Court library were filled with hundreds of U.S. case law reporters (a type of case publication), a reminder of how influential U.S. jurisprudence is across the world.
And despite attempting to quickly educate ourselves about all these “hot-button issues,” we are still managing to find time to enjoy Tel Aviv and the rest of the region (see picture above for proof). All in all, it’s been an amazing experience and a wonderful complement to our work this past fall at Harvard. We will be very sad to leave!