Competitions and Emissaries

Competitions and Emissaries


Every year the Faculty sends students to represent the university and Israel in international competitions * Key events include the Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition and the ICC Moot Court Competition * Some of the participants share their experiences in the competitions and explain how they prepared for the events


The Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition is a prestigious competition in the field of international public law that has been held for over 50 years. Every year some 600 teams from law faculties in over 80 countries participate in the competition. Teams from the Faculty have represented Israel in Washington DC for the past seven years. Last year, the Faculty team reached the quarter final and ended among the eight leading teams in the world.


Yonatan Horowitz, a third-year student, participated in the recent contest and agreed to share his experiences with us. The entire process takes four or five months, during which time groups of about five students prepare their statement of claim and engage in real research. “In international law, many of the disputes relate to the question of what is law – is it establishes custom, international treaties, and so forth?” Yonatan explains. “Around September, they publish a case involving a dispute between two countries.” Yonatan notes that the competition organizers make sure that the subjects are relevant. This year, for example, the case related to three general issues: climate change, state debts, and migration issues. The writing assignments and the competition itself take place in English. After submitting their statements of claim, the participants begin to prepare for the national competition against the College of Management Academic Studies; the winning team then continues on to the international competition. “In the oral arguments stage, you stand up and present your arguments for 20 minutes in front of three judges who ask lots of questions and try to trip you up. Accordingly, it isn’t enough to just learn your own argument – you also have to know all the surrounding material,” Yonatan emphasizes. 



Yonatan Horowitz and the Judges

Yonatan notes that students who participate in the program must be capable of constructing a coherent argument. They also need good English and should be capable of engaging in serious legal research. The critical factor for success in the competition, Yonatan feels, is willingness to invest and make sacrifices. “It takes away some of your time with family and friends and it affects your investment in other courses,” he admits. “People who decide to participate must be willing to pay the price. On the other hand, I think it’s the most challenging thing you can be involved in. I learned things that I don’t think I would have learned anywhere else in the Faculty.”


Yonatan reveals that the work process is anything but simple. “Sometimes it can get frustrating when you are trying unsuccessfully to find something. Sometimes you just feel that you aren’t good enough and you’re letting your team down.” This is where the importance of teamwork comes into play. “The team supports you and carries you along. It’s very important that the members of the team get on, because this is a very intensive process. In our group we really liked each other and we got on well, both professional and socially.” In addition to the friendships they made, the competitors also gained in other ways from their experience: “We all saw an amazing improvement in our ability to speak in public. Although English is not my native language and it was harder for me than for others, once you’ve been doing something for six months you develop your capabilities,” Yonatan concludes.


The Moot Court Competition of the International Criminal Court (ICC)
The Moot Court Competition is held in The Hague, under the inspiration of the ICC. The participants are required to play the roles of victims, prosecution and defense before global experts in international criminal law, including judges from the ICC itself, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and academics. In the 2012-13 academic year, the Hebrew University participated in the competition for the second time. Its team finished in fifth place, out of 26 teams that reached the international final stage.


Adam Shahaf, the assistant coach for the 2012-13 team, explains that “the competition began several years ago on the initiative of a lecturer from Pace University in New York who wanted to encourage students to study international law.” The competition has provoked considerable interest among academics from the field of international criminal law, who see it as an opportunity to exert influence from their standpoints. The participation of our Faculty in the competition was initiated by the Minerva Center, which also provides academic supervision and logistical services for the process. “In November,” Shahaf explains, “they publish a fictitious case extending over a good few pages and combining a wide range of issues. The document simulates the procedural stage in court.” After the case has been published, the team begins to prepare for the international competition itself, which takes place in The Hague in April. “We begin with three statements of claim – defense, prosecution and a third party. The third party is usually the victim, but sometimes it is a state arguing that the case should be heard before a domestic court rather than in the ICC.” During the first three days of the competition, a preliminary round is held in which the teams draw lots and compete in “mini-matches” with two other teams each time. At the end of this stage, the nine best teams go on to the final. After the final, the students tour the ICTY and other tribunals.


The rehearsal


Shahaf participated in the program last year, and this year served as assistant to team coach Dr. Rotem Giladi. In addition to the material addressed by the ICC, which is interesting in its own right, Shahaf explains that the competition offers a particularly interesting kind of learning. The practical goal of winning the competition adds a real edge to the process of writing the claims. “This is a wonderful experience that teaches you in the best possible way how to engage in legal research. I can still remember the main rulings in the area I researched, which key thinkers I needed to quote, and the main connections in my legal argument,” Shahaf reveals.


Sharon Aviram, 25, a first-year student, spoke as the team’s representative for the victims. Sharon was drawn to the competition because of her love of international law. As in the Jessop competition, Sharon is careful to emphasize the sacrifices expected of the participants. “The aspect of independent work requires a lot of self-discipline and cuts into your sleeping time. Sometimes it is really tough.” Sharon formulated the opening sentence she believes every student must ask themselves before joining the competition: “Ask yourself whether international law interests you – not whether it fascinates you, but whether it interests you, and whether you are willing to prioritize it over other areas.” She continues: “I appreciate the competition because I got something out of it. But for people who aren’t planning on working in this field in the future, it will come at the expense of other areas and it’s important to remember that.” Sharon describes the process as long, arduous and difficult, including many hours of work and research. With hindsight, however, “it was worth it.”



Sharon and Yulia


On the day the team left Israel there was a strike at the airport, so the experience was particularly stressful. “We arrived a day late because of the strike. Everything was crazy. But the Faculty really came through. We had almost given up hope and we were beginning to think that after all our work we wouldn’t be able to get to the competition. Then the Faculty agreed to pay for last-minute flight tickets and eventually we arrived in The Hague,” Sharon recalls with excitement. After the preliminary stage, one of the young organizers of the competition joined the table where the Israeli team was sitting. “He said, ‘Look guys, don’t take this too hard but you won’t be going on to the next stage. Don’t be offended – look on it as an experience. You’re a new team, and there are teams here that have been competing for eight years.’” This was half an hour before they were due to announce who was going on to the semi final, and we all put our heads down in despair,” Sharon admits. “We were stunned to see our name in the list of teams who qualified to the semi-final. At seven o’clock in the evening our team received the statement of claims of the other teams that had made it to the semi final, and we had to prepare ourselves by nine o’clock the next morning. It was really like a battle plan in the army,” Sharon recalls. The participants divided themselves into the different positions, and then coach Dr. Giladi came up with a creative way of strengthening the arguments of Eitan (the team’s counsel for the defense) over those of the competing groups. “Everyone was focusing on the suffering the victims had endured. Eitan didn’t dispute that, but he asked whether that was what was of interest to the court at this stage. He declared that the defendant was guilty, and let everyone begin to think that if this was the case, what was there left to say? Then he said, ‘But hold on a minute… We are in a preliminary hearing. It may be that all these events indeed happened – but does that empower the court to hear the case?’ With one sentence, Eitan knocked the wind out of the prosecutors’ sails and brought the court back to the question it was supposed to determine at this point: the issue of competence.” The team did not make it to the final the next day. However, Sharon decided to approach the judge from the semi-final stage and ask him what he thought about the team’s move. “He said that he really liked it, and that made us feel much better. It was so good that we were only two points short of reaching the final,” Sharon recalls with a smile.