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COVID crisis forces annual Mishpatim program online

Prof. Bryan Schwartz

Ten years ago, University of Manitoba Law Professor Bryan Schwartz, in conjunction with the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University, introduced Mishpatim, now known as the Asper International Law Program on Israeli Law and Society – a program whose goal was to introduce the State of Israel to University of Manitoba Law students through direct exposure to Israeli scholarship and society.

“Mishpatim is a way to show some of our students what Israel and Jewish civilization is all about and come to their own conclusions,” says Schwartz, who was a long time board member of the former Winnipeg chapter of the CFHU. “Our program focuses on the nature of the Israeli legal system and how Israel applies its constitutional and regulatory framework to its social and economic challenges compared to the Canadian experience.”
Over the past few years, about 40 students a year joined Schwartz in Israel for two weeks in May. (While the program is open to law students from across Canada, most participants are U. of M. students.)
“We were really excited about this – our tenth year,” Schwartz says. “We had a record number of students enrolled and a huge international conference planned.”
And then the COVID epidemic hit.
Undeterred, Schwartz has created a new course to replace Mishpatim this summer. If he and his students were unable to travel to Israel, he would bring Israel to the students in the form of interactive Zoom sessions with leading scholars drawn from the faculties of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Schwartz notes that he has spent the past three months putting together the new online curriculum with the help of Dr. Daniel Ohana, Schwartz’s Canadian-born Israeli partner in Mishpatim for the past eight years.

The new four-week program, “Decision Making During Crises: Strategic Thinking in Times of Peril and Uncertainty”, began on July 6. Schwartz reports that more than 40 students are participating in the two-hour daily Zoom sessions Monday through Thursday in the mornings.
The first part of the course, which was led by Schwartz, focused on the Canadian and American legal frameworks for emergency powers of government (e.g., Canada’s War Measures Act) and the wider question of how individuals, groups and societies make decisions in times of crises. This part of the program included presentations by Israeli experts in Game Theory, Behavioural Economics, Group Psychology, Recognition-Primed Decisions and Rhetoric: Theories of Decision Making in Emergencies. Students were also exposed to how Jewish civilization as well as modern Israel has adapted to crisis.
“Israel locked down quickly,” Schwartz notes. “What can we learn from the Israel experience? What is the trade-off in Israel between human rights and security?

The second part of the new Mishpatim – led by the Hebrew University’s Ohana, will be examining: the functioning of the Israeli court system; Israel as the “Start-Up Nation” – also Palestinian entrepreneurship in Jerusalem; law enforcement; intercommunal tensions and co-operation through the COVID outbreak; the current situations of both refugees and illegal immigrants; the role of international law with regard to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and on decision-making at a time of crisis such as this.
“For a new start-up venture, our Mishpatim online is going very well,” Schwartz comments. “I am excited about the number of great presenters that Daniel has recruited.”

Schwartz also expresses his heart-felt appreciation for the continued support of the Asper Foundation. The Foundation has been a major sponsor throughout and, this year, repurposed its contribution to provide subsidies for the students participating in the Zoom seminars.
And, Schwartz adds that he is “thrilled” at being able to continue working with the people at the Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School as well as Daniel Ohana and his HU colleagues. “Any association with the university of Albert Einstein is a special honour,” Schwartz says. “The co-operation that we have had from the Hebrew University has been terrific. I couldn’t be more grateful.”

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