Tag: Law

New Perspectives on Tackling Human Trafficking

Prof. Hila Shamir is among TAU scholars fighting modern slavery.

In light of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons on July 30, we caught up with Prof. Hila Shamir to discuss her trailblazing legal research aimed at combating human trafficking in Israel and around the globe. 

According to the latest estimates, over 40 million people are victims of modern slavery in which individuals perform labor or services under highly exploitative conditions. Their vulnerability to exploitation is often the result of poverty, exclusion or migratory status.  

While trafficking is generally thought of as the exploitation in the sex industry, Shamir is among scholars helping to expand the understanding of the phenomenon to include severe forms of labor market exploitation in other labor sectors. For example, this includes the exploitation of workers in industries such as domestic and care work, construction, agriculture, mining, and fishing who are forced to work in inhumane conditions. Such circumstances include working for long hours, in physically unsafe work environments with little to no pay, and with limitations on their liberties and freedom of movement.  

Top-Down Approach 

“While it is possible to effectively combat human trafficking, to do so requires a willingness to address structural elements, such as restrictive migration regimes and harmful labor market regulation,” says Shamir.  

 

She heads the TraffLab research group at the Buchmann Faculty of Law. Her interdisciplinary team includes students and researchers as well as lawyers from TAU’s Workers’ Rights Clinic, where she serves as the academic advisor. The Clinic supports Shamir’s research through the cases it represents in court. 

Shamir won a competitive grant from the EU’s European Research Council for TraffLab’s research. She was the first legal scholar in Israel to win the ERC Starting Grant for outstanding early-career researchers. The ERC also nominated her lab as a finalist for its 2022 Public Engagement with Research Award for its activity building bridges between research and policymaking. 

Prof. Hila Shamir. (Photo: Hadas Parush/Haaretz)

New Legal Tools 

Shamir’s research seeks to formulate new legal tools to fight human trafficking with labor-based strategies alongside traditional approaches focused on criminal law, border control, and human rights. These strategies target the underlying economic, social and legal structures of labor markets prone to severely exploitative practices.  

With her work, Shamir aims to transform the way trafficking is researched and, as a result, the way anti-trafficking policy is devised. 

While this is no simple feat, she remains optimistic: “There are examples around the world showing us that this can be done if we are willing to move beyond criminalization and expand anti-trafficking toolkit towards strengthening the bargaining power and improving the rights of the most vulnerable workers.”  

She explains that migrant and non-citizen workers are among those most vulnerable to labor trafficking, often due to their legal or social status and institutionalized corruption among employers. 

Impacting the National Debate 

In a significant project, Shamir’s team devised a comprehensive policy plan that proposes alternative recommendations to Israel’s current national plan on trafficking. Shamir recently presented the strategy suggestion to various Israeli government stakeholders and Knesset committees, and held a public roundtable about the plan with the UN Rapporteur on trafficking. The project also led her team to submit several branch-off policy papers over the past year to Israeli policymakers overseeing foreign workers’ rights and related topics. 

Going forward, Shamir is pushing full force ahead with her research as well as public and policy engagement on trafficking. This includes several recent and impending publications based on her research on Israel, modern slavery in global value chains, and bilateral labor agreements, which are among the types of structural frameworks that affect the recruitment practices and labor conditions that can lead to trafficking. 

Impressive achievement for Tel Aviv University in the Bar Association Exam

100% of the TAU alumni who took the Bar Association exams for the first time, passed successfully and Tel Aviv University also leads with the highest average grade.

For the first time, 100% of the TAU examinees who took their Bar Association exams for the first time, passed it successfully, according to the Israel Bar Association.

Tel Aviv University also leads with the highest average grade and overall passing rate (including those who did not take the exam for the first time) of 94%. 

“Israel’s Future Legal Leaders”

The impressive achievement of a 100% passing rate among alumni taking the exam for the first time was also recorded at Bar-Ilan and Haifra universities. In fourth place among those taking the exam for the first time is the Hebrew University (95%). According to the Israel Bar Association, this is a first time increase in the percentage of examinees passing. 

There were a total of 1,506 examinees in the end of June, and 47% of them passed. The percentage of examinees passing the exams on first attempt (597 individuals) is significantly higher than the general passing rate, and stands at 64%.

Like last year, there is a gap between the percentage of passing grades between university and college graduates (although the gaps have narrowed), 87% of the university alumni passed the exam and 41% of the college graduates. 

An analysis of the data by place of specialization, shows that the military/police prosecutor’s office achieved the highest percentage of passing the exam, with 76%; in second place is the state prosecutor’s office for its districts with 65%. Most of the examinees come from the private sector, where the passing rate is 39% out of 1,163 examinees. 

Prof. Yishai Blank, Buchmann Faculty of Law Dean, says, “I am especially proud that the alumni of TAU’s Faculty of Law have, once again, achieved top Bar Examination results with 100% passing the exam and overall earning the highest scores in the country. We are proud of them and the excellent legal training that the Faculty provides them during their studies, preparing them to become Israel’s future legal leaders.” 

TAU Welcomes Ukrainian Emergency Fellowship Students

Some “need time to unfreeze”, as they begin their studies on campus.

Tel Aviv University officially welcomed seven Ukrainian graduate students, who arrived within the framework of the Emergency Fellowship Fund recently announced by the University in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing refugee crisis.

The all-women group of students hail from different cities in Ukraine, stretching from Lviv and Kyiv to Mariupol and Mikolaiv, and will continue their studies in law, medicine, psychology, music and linguistics. 

“You are very much wanted here at TAU,” President Ariel Porat told the students at the introductory meeting, expressing hope that despite the unfortunate circumstances students will find “a home away from home” at the University that will enrich their academic and personal lives. 

Constant Worry

Most of the students left their families behind in Ukraine, and worry about their wellbeing around the clock. “I managed to speak to my family yesterday, but today the connection was severed and I was unable to reach them,” says Alisa, a graduate student in law, who will be studying Crisis Management at TAU. She comes from a small town near Mariupol, in Eastern Ukraine, which has suffered some of the heaviest blows in the fighting. Alisa heard about the Fellowship through her academic advisor, as did most of the other students. 

Marina, another law student, was enrolled at the Ukrainian State Pedagogical University in Kropyvnytskyi, a central town which she says is pretty safe for now. The University premises, however, have been converted into living quarters for people escaping from more dangerous areas. Lectures are only taking place online and are highly irregular. “I was supposed to graduate in June,” she tells us, “but for now, I’m just happy to be able to continue my studies here at TAU.”

Kateryna from Kyiv studies psychology, and left immediate family members in Ukraine. “This is my first time in Israel and I know nothing about the local culture, but I’m very curious to learn,” she says, adding that the adjustment process helps her endure the constant concern about her family’s wellbeing. 

“We need some time to ‘unfreeze’, before we can start to take in and appreciate our surroundings,” adds Alisa. 

Here to Help

The students are being offered counseling and psychological services by TAU International, which has been taking full care of them since their arrival in Israel. “In light of the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, we are making a great effort to ensure that the Ukrainian students enjoy their campus experience and have a smooth transition to living in Tel Aviv, and that all their immediate needs are met,” says Michal Linder Zarankin, the School’s International Projects Coordinator.

Their tuition and living expenses are covered by TAU’s $1 million Emergency Fellowship Fund, which was swiftly raised by the University’s donors around the world over the last few weeks. 

Five more Ukrainian students are expected to arrive next week, as well as some faculty members. 

Out of the 30,000 students studying at TAU, over 300 hold dual Israeli-Ukrainian citizenship. In addition to these, there are many Israeli TAU students of Ukrainian and Russian descent. 

Featured image: Ukrainian graduate students are welcomed by TAU’s President Ariel Porat, Prof. Milette Shamir VP International and TAU International staffers

And Let There Be Light

Efforts by TAU’s Clinical Law Program will help keep electricity running for those who are struggling to pay utility bills.

The recent drop in temperature in Israel has led to a significant increase in electricity consumption. But what about those who simply cannot afford basic necessities?

A petition jointly filed by Tel Aviv University’s Human Rights Clinic at The Buchmann Faculty of Law will help keep the electricity on for some of Israel’s most underprivileged populations. In response to the appeal, Israel’s High Court ruled that electricity must not be cut off for citizens who prove a difficult economic or medical condition, effective immediately. We spoke with attorney Adi Nir Binyamini from TAU’s Human Rights Clinic, one of the lawyers who handled the case. 

Electricity – A Fundamental Right?

In a precedent-setting decision, the High Court ruled on January 20 that access to electricity should be considered a fundamental right and that the Electricity Authority must, within six months, amend the criteria for power outages as a means of collecting debt. Meanwhile, the new ruling assists electricity consumers who find themselves in serious economic or medical distress, and ensure that they will not be left in the dark or the cold and without other basic needs.

The ruling came in response to a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) in collaboration with the Human Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University, Physicians for Human Rights and the Israel Union of Social Workers against the Electricity Authority, the Israel Electric Corp. and Energy Minister. It was filed on behalf of several poor families whose electricity had been cut off for non-payment.

The High Court of Justice ruled that, until the Electricity Authority establishes appropriate criteria and procedures (within six months from the time of the ruling), it must enable consumers facing power cuts from lack of payment to demonstrate whether they are suffering financial or health problems that justify their continued access to electric power. The court said the Electricity Authority must conduct a hearing prior to cutting a customer’s power. It gave the national electricity provider six months to revise its procedures and ordered it to pay the petitioners 40,000 NIS ($12,800) in expenses, to be divided among them. “This is a dramatic change from the previous situation, when it was possible to cut off people’s electricity access due to the accumulation of debt, except for very few exceptions,” explains Att. Nir Binyamini.

 

From the second hearing in Higher Court, on October 28, 2021 (from left to right): Gil Gan Mor (ACRI), Hicham Chabaita and Att. Adi Nir Binyamini from TAU’s Human Rights Clinic and Att. Mascit Bendel (ACRI) 

The Beginning of a New Era

Binyamini, who has dealt with electricity litigation for several years now, says, “I feel personal and professional satisfaction that on the coldest day of the year, when people were left without heating, the High Court accepted our position and ruled not to cut off people’s electricity due to poverty and that debt must instead be collected by more moderate means.”


 When asked how the Clinic got involved with the project, Binyamini explains that TAU’s Humans Rights Clinic was previously part of a legal battle over water disconnections for consumers unable to pay their water bill. “After that was successfully completed, we took on the subject of electricity and have been working on it continuously for the past eight years. The Clinic represented and handled the two petitions that were submitted to the Israeli High Court, and over the years we have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of people being cut off from electricity. We have also been guiding and assisting social workers with individual cases.”

She adds that a large number of students from the Clinic have worked on the case over the years, and stresses that such practical experience is an extremely valuable component of legal education.

Upon the court’s ruling, Binyamini along with Att. Maskit Bendel of the ACRI issued a statement, saying: “We hope that the ruling, which opened with the words ‘and let there be light,’ heralds the beginning of new era when it comes to protecting weak populations from having their electricity cut off.” 

 

Attorney-at-law Adi Nir Binyamini from Tel Aviv University’s Human Rights Clinic (photo: Tomer Jacobson) 

A House is Not a Home Without a Pet

TAU law students are helping elderly citizens and their pets move to senior homes.

Many senior citizens have to part with their beloved pets just when they need them the most: when they leave their homes and transition to live in public housing for the elderly. In many of these governmental institutions, pets are still not allowed – and when they are, the policy is not always implemented. This can cause a painful situation which may harm the mental and physical wellbeing of senior citizens, and affect the welfare of the animals (often senior as well) that find themselves homeless and separated from their loving caretakers.

We have some positive news: There are good people out there who are pro-actively seeking to protect the rights of pet caretakers, as well as the pets’.

Who? Students of The Buchmann Faculty of Law who work through the Clinic for Environmental Justice and the Protection of Animal Rights, an integral part of the The Coller-Menmon Animal Rights and Welfare Program, Israel’s leading and most comprehensive academic program on animal law, at the Faculty of Law. We do realize that’s a mouthful and warrants some further explanation…

Protecting Animals’ Rights

The Clinic for Environmental Justice has been handling a range of environmental issues since 2001. In 2017, it expanded its operations to include the protection of animals’ rights. Through their work at the Clinic, law students get to practice drafting applications, precedents and position papers, closely accompanied by top academics and clinical facilitators from Israel’s legal system. 

Dr. Orit Hirsch-Matsioulas researches human-animal relations. She is a post-doctoral fellow of The Coller-Menmon Animal Rights and Welfare Program and one of the founders of The Community for Human-Animal Studies Israel (HASI). Together with Adv. Amnon Keren, Program Coordinator and Clinical Instructor at the Clinic, she made the rights of the elderly and their pets one of the Clinic’s lead projects.

Both Granny and Kitty Benefit

The project was significantly accelerated when the Clinic decided to handle the appeal of a group of senior citizens who were told they were not allowed to bring their pets to their public housing apartments. “The rights of elderly people were violated,” says Dr. Hirsch-Matsioulas. “Some of them decided against moving because they did not want to part with their pets. Noah, the umbrella organization for Israel’s animal protection associations, contacted us, and we got in touch with the Ministry of Construction and Housing to change the existing policy.”

Dr. Hirsch-Matsioulas presented the Ministry with academic studies on emotional, cognitive and health-related benefits of pet relationships for senior citizens. Moreover, she brought a new element to the attention of the Ministry officials, namely the effect of the relationship on the animals.

“We built a multidisciplinary team of people from the fields of law, social sciences, social work, gerontology (i.e. the multidisciplinary study of aging, including physical aspects as well as mental, social and societal implications) and civil society organizations, and we’re working together with the Ministry of Construction and Housing,” explains Dr. Hirsch-Matsioulas. 

A temporary policy was established, allowing for the entry and keeping of pets in all public senior homes, called בתי גיל הזהב, under the responsibility of Israel’s Ministry of Construction and Housing. It was widely agreed that this temporary right should eventually become permanent, however this is a lengthy process. 

 

Kitty and Milo also have rights. Photo: Vika Minkowitz Mualem

Focusing on Solutions

While we’re excited to share that this undertaking is, in fact, a global precedent, the process of implementing the policy has not been a smooth ride. Due to Covid restrictions, the team has not been able to enter the senior housing buildings to teach the staff about the new guidelines for successful implementation. “The doors have been opened. Now, we must focus on ensuring the optimal execution,” says Dr. Hirsch-Matsioulas. 

Dr. Hirsch-Matsioulas is compiling a report with all the issues that do or may arise. She will then proceed to examine the appropriate solutions for every listed problem, through consultation with relevant professionals. The aim is to come up with suitable solutions for the preservation of the elderly’s right to good health and a dignified life, as well as the preservation of the rights of the animals. Once completed, she will present the list to policy makers to advance the legislation, with the aim that the Ministry of Construction and Housing can adopt the law on a permanent basis. 

The arrived upon solutions will be offered, and hopefully adopted, by additional countries as well.

 

Emotional, cognitive and health benefits enjoyed by both parties. Photo: Vika Minkowitz Mualem

Across Generations and Species

“We intend to visit senior homes, observe and learn, and then to provide cultural programs with positive and educational messages on how to co-exist in a community with multiple living species,” offers Dr. Hirsch-Matsioulas.

“Education is central for promoting change, and we would like to cultivate a new atmosphere on ground through a series of lectures. Children and youth are oftentimes leading agents of change, and we may end up including the grandchildren in this effort.” 

“Beyond our firm conviction that the elderly shouldn’t have to part with their pets, that are to them like family members for all intents and purposes, the Clinic also makes sure that the animals’ interests are represented. Forced removal of an animal from a warm and loving home can cause him or her great suffering, especially in old age,” adds Adv. Keren.

“In recent years, there’s been a growing recognition in Israel of animal rights and their welfare, as key considerations in decision-making pertaining to them. We will continue to develop this trend, whereby the animal is regarded as a subject with his or her own rights, each animal representing a world of his or her own and worthy of protection in and by him- or herself.”

 

Dr. Orit Hirsch-Matsioulas and her good friend, Shenef. 

Featured image: Family and flatmates. Photo: Noah Toledano

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