Thursday, June 9, 2011

Next year in Jerusalem

I recently had the honor of completing a five day visit to Israel with nine other Attorneys General from around the country.
The visit was co-sponsored by the National Association of Attorneys General, the America-Israel Friendship League and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.  The purpose of the trip was to get a hands-on understanding of the structure of the Israeli government and its relationship with the United States.  I must say, it became that and more.

We arrived on a Friday and that evening I attended, for the first time, a Kabbalat Shabbat Service at ShirHadash.  It was followed by a Shabbat Dinner hosted by Rabbi Ian and Rachel Pear.  Rachel is the daughter of former New York Attorney General Bob Abrams, who helped organize the mission.  Needless to say, the religious and cultural traditions surrounding this evening were truly inspirational and provided a wonderful beginning to the visit.

The agenda for the remainder of the trip was impressive.  A sampling of those we met with included the Honorable Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel; Baruch Bina, Deputy Director General Israel Foreign Ministry; Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstien (who is a former Israeli Attorney General); Yehuda Weinstein, Attorney General at Gavriel; Ambassador Danny Ayalon, Deputy Foreign Minister; and Arthur Lenk, Director of the Legal department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  While every meeting and event was enlightening and educational, I will note the highlights.

The ninety minute meeting with President Shimon Peres at his residence clearly was a highlight of the visit.  It was an open dialogue and conversation with a person whose wisdom shone through.  President Obama had just given his speech regarding the pre- 1967 borders.  President Peres advised that everyone read the entire Obama speech and also wait to hear the upcoming AIPAC addresses by Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Netanyahu’s address to Congress, before coming to conclusions on the President’s stance.

I asked President Peres what is one single message from him we could bring back to our respective states.  He responded that we should all bring back strong support for democracy not only in America, but throughout the world.  He, as well as many Israeli’s I met, is rightfully proud of the fact that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East.  The spread of democracy will not only help the peace process in the Middle East, but throughout the world.

A further enlightening portion of the visit was the tour of the Supreme Court and the meeting with Justice Rubinstein.  One of the first aspects of the Court that struck me was the fact that I saw the Atlantic Reporter series of cases in the library.  Why would an Israeli court have American case law on hand?  It turns out that because the state of Israel is so young, it seeks precedent from case law established outside its borders.

Another fascinating feature of the Supreme Court is that, unlike in America, it accepts every case presented to it.  Last year that amounted to approximately 10,000 cases.  Also, one does not need the well established American principle of “Standing” to file a case.  Anyone can file a case.  It truly is a judicial system that is open and accessible to every Israeli citizen, regardless of race, religion, gender or country of origin.

Finally, I want to bring a direct local aspect to the trip.  I had recently toured the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island and told the students of my upcoming trip to Israel.  I offered them the opportunity to prepare notes for the Western Wall.  They provided an envelope full of notes.  It was my pleasure to place their notes into the Wall in what was one of many moving parts of the visit.

I appreciate the fact I had an opportunity to see and learn first-hand about the legal structure, government, people and situations facing one of America’s greatest allies, Israel.  I appreciate the opportunity to share this experience and, hopefully, returning to Israel to help strengthen Rhode Island’s ties to this great nation. As I have heard often, but understand more, “next year in Jerusalem.”

General Kilmartin with President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres.

General Kilmartin on tour of tunnels at the Western Wall