Israel's Supreme Court Had 74 Interns in the Past Two Years. Only One Was Arab

Data requested by Haaretz reveals lack of diversity in the Israeli Supreme Court internship program, with vast majority of interns coming from the same academic institutions and cities

Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit
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The Supreme Court in session in September 2021.
The Supreme Court in session in September 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit

Of the 74 applicants who have been accepted to internships at the Supreme Court over the past two years, only one was a Muslim Arab, data received at Haaretz's request shows. The rest of the interns were Jewish.

The data further shows that the vast majority of interns studied at Tel Aviv University or the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and only a handful live outside Israel's major cities.

Data published by Haaretz in June 2015 showed that the identity components of the average Supreme Court intern from 2007-2014 were: Jewish, graduate of Tel Aviv University or the Hebrew University, living in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

The updated data, submitted by the freedom of information administrator at the Courts Administration, refers to applicants accepted from March 2020 onward and shows that no change has taken place.

According to the data, the chances of graduates of law colleges (as opposed to universities) to be accepted to a Supreme Court internship are nearly non-existent. The only private academic institution whose graduates interned at the Supreme Court in the past two years is Reichmann University (formerly the Interdisciplinary Center, recognized in 2021 as a private university.)

In addition, 78 percent of interns at the Supreme Court from March 2020 to the present day studied law at Tel Aviv University (30 interns) or the Hebrew University (28 interns). Five graduated from Bar-Ilan University, four from Reichmann, and four from Haifa University. Only one intern studied at a non-university academic institution – the Safed Academic College – and he interned for a court registrar, rather than for one of the Justices. The alma mater of one of the interns was not disclosed.

Place of residence also shows a large lead for Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the center of the country in general; this does not necessarily indicate the intern’s town of origin, but rather their place of residence at the onset of their internship. Out of 74 interns, the residence of 30 is listed in Jerusalem, and a further 20 are listed as living in Tel Aviv. The other interns come from various places, mostly in the central region, and only seven are listed as residing in places that can be called geographical or social periphery.

A Supreme Court internship is highly prestigious, and is considered a springboard to advanced studies at high-end universities abroad, and to positions at leading law firms and the state’s prosecution. Every Justice among the 15 serving may choose two interns for an internship period of 12 or 18 months. The interns help the judges with legal research and the drafting of rulings and verdicts. Some become fully-paid legal assistants to the judges following their internship.

Professor Muhammad Watted, Dean of the Safed Academic College Law School, earned his first degree in law summa cum laude at Haifa University, and in 2003 interned at the Supreme Court for Justice Dalia Dorner. Watted stresses the importance of diversity among Supreme Court interns, saying "this will do good both for the interns and for the court and the Justices.”

Watted explains that “an intern doesn’t sit at the Supreme Court to make coffee. They speak their mind, persuade, and can provide the judge for whom they work with a different perspective, which is important to the judicial duty. Therefore, it is important for there to be Arabs, women, Haredim, people of Ethiopian descent, and people from the periphery interning at the Supreme Court.”

Watted emphasizes that admittance of Arab interns to the Supreme Court should not come at the expense of excellence. “There are excellent Arab students at the law colleges and universities, including Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University, and there is no reason they shouldn’t intern. Just as diversity is important among judges, it is needed among interns.”

Prof. Yuval Elbashan, formerly Dean of the law school at the Ono Academic College, and a candidate for Director of the National Insurance Institution, criticizes the failure to integrate the graduates of the colleges: "Since time immemorial, it has been university graduates interning at the Supreme Court, mostly from Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University. It is sad to see that nothing has changed. It’s the same old song.”

Elbashan, who himself interned for Justice Yaakov Turkel at the Supreme Court in 1995, says that bringing interns from different social background is crucial, especially because most justices grew up in similar neighborhoods.

"These college students come from different backgrounds. An intern can fill in what the Justices lack, and therefore integrating interns from the periphery will help the Supreme Court become less alienated from the public and better at its job." He said. Elbashan also claims that lack of diversity in the justice system could cast doubt on its integrity: "Part of the public’s distrust of the Supreme Court stems from a phenomenon of 'incest', meaning that the Justices and the interns come from the same places. I believe that is a danger to the rule of law.”

Prof. Watted notes that a Supreme Court internship is a serious leg up in life. “A Supreme Court internship is very prestigious and highly-regarded. It enables admission to advanced studies at the leading American universities.” Elbashan agrees, saying that “a Supreme Court internship is a golden ticket to employment in the market and in academia, and therefore should be viewed as a national resource, to be distributed equally.”

In response, the Judicial Branch said it "sees great importance in proper representation of various sectors within Israeli society, and it recruits diverse populations into its ranks." citing representation of populations quotas enumerated in the Civil Service Law (appointments) 5719-1958.

The branch also said that "in recent years we have seen the integration of a diverse population among the interns and legal aides at the Supreme Court, for instance from among the Haredi community. However, only the very best students from all learning institutions in the country are chosen for the Supreme Court, based on their grade sheets, recommendations, and personal interviews."

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