Israeli law pioneer leads new class at UCLA

Israeli law pioneer leads new class at UCLA

Professor Eli Salzberger of Haifa University, the Lawrence E. Irell Visiting Scholar at the UCLA School of Law for fall semester, 2012, will teach about the Israeli legal system through the lens of international legal theories.

By Ariel Litke
Intern, Nazarian Center for Israel Studies

When students take their seats in Professor Eli Salzberger’s “Legal Philosophy Meets the Israeli Legal System” class this fall, most will not realize that the person facing them at the podium is one of the foremost contributors to the evolution of Israeli law.

Salzberger, who will be the Lawrence E. Irell Visiting Scholar at the UCLA School of Law for fall semester, 2012, has been a leading expert on the intricate relationship between economics and law for more than 25 years.  Born in Jerusalem, Salzberger majored in law, graduating summa cum laude from Hebrew University after a five-year stint in the intelligence unit of the Israeli Army. A bright student with eclectic tastes, he also took classes in economics and spent a year in acting school.

The main purpose of his course, he said, will be to explore the relevance of legal theories to the understanding, explanation and assessment of a legal system. As an introduction to the Israeli legal system, students will analyze key Israeli legislation and court decisions and the impact they had, through the lenses of conflicting theories of law.   

His enthusiasm for bringing a class on Israeli law to UCLA is rooted in his belief that students will benefit from exploring international legal systems.

“By introducing a legal system other than the American one, which is the main focus here at UCLA, the course will heighten the students’ analytical skills, allowing them to better evaluate the law in other countries and indeed in their own country. It will also give them the tools necessary for comparative law, and hopefully help them become better jurists once they start their careers.”

Salzberger’s early professional days were spent working as a clerk for Aharon Barak then an Israeli Supreme Court justice. Considered by many to be a driving force in shaping modern Israeli Law, Barak made a key ruling that stated that Israeli Basic Laws on human rights were to be interpreted as constitutional norms, thus allowing the Supreme Court to strike down any legislation that violates them. This ruling, known in Israel as the Constitutional Revolution, a term coined by Barak, marked the switch to an era of judicial activism.   

Shortly after concluding his internship, the second half of which he worked with Dorit Beinish, deputy State Attorney and later the President of Israel’s Supreme Court, and passing the bar, Salzberger crossed the Mediterranean to pursue studies at Oxford University in England. There he explored the topic that was to define his career: the economic analysis of law.

Having written his doctoral thesis on the economic analysis of the doctrine of the separation of powers, he returned to Israel in 1993 to teach at the University of Haifa. In 2005, Salzberger was named dean of the university’s Faculty of Law, a position he held until 2009.  

A pioneer in his field, his work has extended to the role of economics analysis in constitutional law, intellectual property and cyberspace. A frequently cited scholar, Salzberger’s work has been published in the Journal of Law and Economics”, the “International Review of Law and Economics” and the “German Working Papers in Law and Economics,” among others.  He has also authored two books “Law, Economic and Cyberspace” and “Economic Analysis of Intellectual Property in the Digital Age: The Limits of Analysis”, as well as a number of book chapters.  He recently served as president of the European Association of Law and Economics and sat on the Board Directors of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Public Council of the Israel Democracy Institute.   

Salzberger is a strong proponent of Israeli democracy, and he has analyzed many of the devices with which power is checked and civil rights upheld. But he has also been a vocal critic of the government whenever he felt that rights were being trampled or illegal decisions made.  

“Israel, which is a parliamentary democracy, does not know the elaborate system of checks and balances written into the American constitution,” says Salzberger. “Decisions are made by simple majority in Parliament, making the Supreme Court and other legal institutions the guardians of democracy in Israel. Despite this institutional deficiency, I believe that in some areas of human rights the Israeli record is more impressive than the American one. Some of these areas will be discussed in the UCLA course. ”

For more information on upcoming courses that explore Israel, or to learn about upcoming events hosted by the Nazarian Center, go to