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Canadian foundation funds legal aid clinic at Bar-Ilan University

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Itzik Dessie, right, and Ariel Bendor will supervise Bar-Ilan University’s new Clinic for the Advancement of Equality.

The law school at Bar-Ilan University in Israel has an interesting requirement for third-year students: not only are they expected to keep up with their studies, they must also commit to engaging in volunteer work, to give back to the community.

The school currently maintains seven legal aid clinics and, starting in the 2018-19 academic year, there will be one more, thanks to a financial contribution from the Gerald Schwartz & Heather Reisman Foundation.

Beginning in October, Bar-Ilan will be home to the Clinic for the Advancement of Equality, a facility that the university says is the first of its kind in Israel.

Preliminary research work is already in progress at the clinic.

READ: FIVE QUEBEC-ISRAEL RESEARCH PROJECTS RECEIVE FUNDING

The Schwartz-Reisman Foundation will be contributing $175,000 per year for three years towards the clinic, said Itzik Dessie, a doctoral student at the law school and creator of the clinic.

“I would not have been able to realize this vision without the generous support of the foundation, which identified the problem and has become an important partner in promoting the equality of disadvantaged groups,” Dessie said.

Dessie, who is known for being the first Ethiopian-Israeli attorney in Israel, said the clinic is geared toward “providing equality for disadvantaged groups, such as Ethiopians, Arabs, women and the disabled.”

By working at the clinic, students will receive a hands-on, practical education, while providing legal services to clients who are in need. At the same time, the clinic will monitor government laws, court decisions and other social developments that have an impact on equality, Dessie added.

The new Clinic for the Advancement of Equality at Bar-Ilan University.

Dessie, who is working on a doctoral dissertation on “the constitutional right to positive action,” said he expects around 20 students to work at the clinic in any one year, out of around 180-200 who are enrolled in Bar-Ilan’s third-year law class.

Prof. Ariel Bendor, who is supervising Dessie’s dissertation, will supervise the clinic along with Dessie.

“When Itzik shared his idea of establishing a legal clinic for equality advancement, I was very enthusiastic,” Bendor said. “The issue of promoting the equality of disadvantaged groups in society is not adequately treated in legal clinics in Israel, and I thought that a clinic in this field could complete the developed system of legal clinics at Bar-Ilan University, make a unique contribution to Israeli society and, of course, to the education of our students on a central issue.”

One particular focus will be on whether court decisions on equality actually get implemented. If not, the clinic will be in a position to employ legal tools to make sure they do, Dessie said.

When Itzik shared his idea of establishing a legal clinic for equality advancement, I was very enthusiastic.
– Prof. Ariel Bendor

Dessie, who founded Tebeka, a nonprofit that provides free legal assistance to Ethiopian immigrants, in 2000, said minorities in Israel experience discrimination in a number of ways. “There is discrimination in education, employment, policing,” he said. There is also the question of adequate representation of minorities in the public service, he added.

“The disabled, Arabs, haredim, Ethiopians and women are groups that the law says are entitled to affirmative action,” he said.

Israeli law also prohibits discrimination in the private sector, he added.

The Clinic for the Advancement of Equality will operate under the umbrella of the Clinical Legal Education Program at Bar-Ilan’s faculty of law. The program currently operates legal aid clinics that focus on disability rights, the elderly, Holocaust survivors, civil law, women’s rights and environmental regulation. Each provides free assistance to clients who cannot afford legal representation.