Attempting to find justice in Israel through caring

Attempting to find justice in Israel through caring

Hebrew University of Jerusalem Professor Uri Yanay is an expert in “restorative justice,” a method for achieving justice outside of courtrooms. While at UCLA, Yanay will give a talk sponsored by the Y&S Nazarian Center on grassroots restorative justice efforts involving Israelis and Palestinians.

“I see ‘restorative justice' conferencing as a way to reverse a sense of victimhood and heal wounds by reaching a personal sense of doing justice through listening, respecting and caring for the other.”

UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, February 16, 2017 - Uri Yanay’s research is focused on efforts to do something simple: care. As part of his work, the Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem teaches his students the meaning of caring and the means to care for others.

“I am not a teacher, I am an educator,” says Yanay. “My mission is to do research, share its findings with students, and encourage them to try, experience, and adopt the methods for engaging in the most important form of caring: empowering people to search for and achieve justice.”

While at UCLA as part of the Israel Institute Visiting Faculty program, Yanay is pursuing his work on one of his research interests: “restorative justice”. Though his primary focus is victims and victimhood, Yanay has extensively researched the method that brings together victims and perpetrators and gives both parties an opportunity to discuss their conflict and reach what they would consider interpersonal justice.

This alternative approach will be the subject of Yanay’s February 23 talk sponsored by the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies entitled “Israelis Meet Palestinians: Restorative Justice Initiatives & Perceptions of Vicitimhood.” In his talk to UCLA students and members of the community, Yanay will speak in particular about forums that bring together Israeli and Palestinian families, ex-combatants and others who have suffered and caused suffering during the ongoing conflict.

“There are many reasons these individuals and families participate, but basically, they all wish to present their personal stories to each other, discuss their lives and be respected,” Yanay explains. “This desire to be heard and respected by the other side, combined with the need to highlight the personal pain they have endured, motivates the participants.”

Yanay contends that the feeling of respect that participants gain through these informal discussions can lead to feelings of justice, not only for the individuals themselves, but also for the different, rival communities as a whole. The key, Yanay asserts, is that people feel they have achieved justice.

“When dealing with victims, the questions is always whether being a victim is reversible or not,” Yanay says. “I see ‘restorative justice’ conferencing as a way to reverse a sense of victimhood and heal wounds by reaching a personal sense of doing justice through listening, respecting and caring for the other.”

Interpersonal and restorative justice programs are not unique to Israel. They have been used in South Africa, Chile and other countries where communities have been divided by painful, long-term political conflicts. However, the continuation of the hostilities while these efforts take place makes the initiatives Yanay has studied in Israel distinct from those in other countries. Typically, these initiatives follow the resolution of a conflict and are referred to as “transitional justice” programs.

However, the principle at the heart of the initiatives in Israel and across the globe remains the same: justice is interpersonal and it involves much more than legal processes, attending courts and obeying laws.
“Justice is a feeling,” Yanay explains. “Justice is in the eye of the beholder.”

His interest in alternative efforts to achieve justice comes from a belief that the typical government systems of justice do not achieve a personal sense of justice. This is something Yanay has observed throughout his life. He also noted the “relative” meaning of justice during his time in Malawi, where he did community and youth work before embarking on an academic career at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“I realized early on that people aren’t very happy with what their leaders call justice,” Yanay recalls. “And part of the reason I got into social work was because I wanted to study what people really care about in their personal, familial and communal life, and help them try and achieve it.”

After completing his BA in social work at Hebrew University, he went on to complete his Master of Social Work and PhD in Social Work at his alma mater. In the years following, Yanay went on to do postdoctoral research at the University of Kent and the London School of Economics.

Much of his work has been based on the Israeli experience and he has worked closely with the Israeli government on initiatives related to rehabilitation of crime victims and terror victims. Most recently, he completed a government-funded study on restorative justice conferencing among adults in Israel. The program he studied brings together criminal offenders and their victims to discuss and try to solve their criminal conflict – attempting to reach an agreement that would end the conflict if possible. The process is voluntary and overseen by social workers under court supervision.

Yanay has also done research on other countries’ programs for supporting victims of hostile and criminal acts. While at UCLA, he is continuing that work by studying the California’s Victim Compensations Program, which is one of the oldest in the country.

Yanay also recently gave a talk to UCLA’s Social Welfare Department on January 31, entitled “Victims and Survivors: Should They be Cared for?” in which he discussed practical and policy issues when caring for those who are legally classified or classify themselves as “victims” or “survivors.”