English Law Studies in Israel Nipped in the Bud

Council for Higher Education bars college from opening English-language BA program

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Students at an Israeli university.
Students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman
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Yarden Skop

The Council for Higher Education decided on Tuesday not to approve the establishment of an English-language bachelor’s degree in law. The council said the Hebrew language is central to such a program and it would be “very difficult to translate into a foreign language legal terms and the cultural context from which they sprang.”

The request to establish an English language bachelor’s degree program in law, which came from the Ramat Gan Academic College of Law and Business, was first discussed by a subcommittee of the council, which was unable to decide on the matter and came up with two opposing opinions. It was therefore referred to the full council.

Ahead of the debate in the full council, attempts at compromise were made behind the scenes. One proposal was that the English-language program be established, but be limited to foreign students and new immigrants.

The president of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, Prof. Moshe Bar-Asher, said in response that the academy “welcomed the council’s correct decision to safeguard the Hebrew language and safeguard proper training in law in this country.”

Bar-Asher also said the council had realized that “it is impossible to train jurists in this country unless they possess the true tool of their work − the language in which the laws were formulated and legal discourse takes place.”

In response to the decision, the Ramat Gan college demanded that Education Minister Shay Piron, who is also the council’s chairman, intervene immediately to reverse the decision. A spokesperson for the college said the decision “hurts aliyah to Israel of young Jews from the United States and the rest of the world who want to study in Israel and become part of it.”

The college spokesperson said the council’s decision isolated Israel and “prevented collaboration with leading academic institutions, which teach law in English.”

According to the college, the English-language program had the support of leading deans of law schools in Israel as well as former Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak and Prof. Alan Dershowitz.

However, the committee heard testimony from leading jurists, including Prof. Ruth Gavison, that it would not be proper to offer a bachelor’s degree program in law in English. Representatives of the Israel Bar Association also came out against the program, saying that students who had taken law in English would have difficulty passing the bar exam, which is in Hebrew.

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