Ruth Ben Israel
Ruth Ben Israel, an expert in labor law, social equality, social security and the status of women, received the Israel Prize for legal research in 2001, becoming the third member of her family to win this distinguished award, alongside her brother, Professor Yuval Ne’eman (b. 1925, Israel Prize 1969) and her cousin, Professor Hayyim Harari (b. 1940, Israel Prize 1989).
Ben Israel’s forebears include Israel Bak (1797–1874), who settled in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter in 1837. One set of grandparents, Abba (1872–1960) and Sarah Ne’eman, were among the founders of the first Hebrew city, Tel Aviv, while the others, Zareh and Yokheved Mosheli, were among the founders of Neve Zedek, the first Jewish neighborhood in Jaffa.
Ruth Ben Israel was born in 1931 in Egypt. Her family returned to Palestine in 1935 and she grew up in Tel Aviv. In 1949 she joined the Israel Defense Forces, serving as a squad commander, later becoming an officer and serving in various commands. She served for about a year at the Women’s Corps training base and for a further year in the navy as an officer in its Women’s Corps and as the deputy commander of the Stella Maris base in Haifa.
Upon her discharge in 1951, Ben Israel traveled to France where she studied at the School for Applied Arts in Paris and also earned a diploma in French language and culture from the Sorbonne. She completed her studies in 1954 and worked in the arts after her return to Israel, establishing the Meshakem carpet company, which opened branches in Dimonah and Ofakim.
Her professional shift to the field of law came about almost by chance when her husband, attorney Gideon Ben Israel (b. 1923), retired from his law practice upon being elected to the fourth Knesset in November 1959. Ruth Ben Israel, who was by this time the mother of two daughters, Marit and Savyon, began to study law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in order to carry on the practice, choosing to specialize in labor law since her husband dealt with labor relations in professional unions. While Gideon was secretary of the Workers’ Council and a member of the Histadrut’s coordinating committee, Ruth decided to concentrate on the academic aspect so that there would be a common topic in their work. She obtained both her LL.B. and LL.M. degrees magna cum laude and in 1975 also completed a Ph.D. degree. In 1977 she joined the academic staff of the law department at Tel Aviv University, becoming a full professor in 1986 and professor emerita in 2000. She served as associate dean of the law faculty from 1985 to 1990 and as dean in 1990–1991.
Since 1978 Ben Israel has written the volume on Israeli labor law published by the International Encyclopaedia for Labor Law and Industrial Relations. In 1983 she was a visiting professor at New York University’s law school and since1984 has been a member of the American Arbitration Association. From 1985 to 1995 she was a member of the international board of the International Labor Law and Social Security Association (ILLSSA). Between 1992 and 1998 she was a member of the international board of the International Industrial Relations Association (IIRA).
Ben Israel has published more than fifteen books in Israel and abroad and dozens of essays on labor law and social security. Her books have become basic texts on labor law in Israel. In addition to her academic work, Ben Israel served on a voluntary basis for eight years as the legal advisor of the Knesset’s Labor and Welfare Committee, headed by MK Ora Namir. As part of her work in this position, Ben Israel was involved in the drafting of several important laws, including the Minimum Wage Law and the Equal Opportunities Law. More recently she has worked with the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women, participating in the preparation of several additional laws, including the law against sexual harassment.
When Ben Israel received the Israel Prize in 2001, the judges—Professor Yizhak Zamir, the committee chairman, and Professors Sinai Deutsch and Ruth Lapidot—cited the fact that Ben Israel was not only a world-renowned expert famed for her profound research and value-based writings, but also that she had done a large amount of practical work in the field. The judges also noted her book on collective agreements, her research on the right to strike in Israel and in the world, and her book on equal opportunity and the prohibition against discrimination in the workplace—all examples of her in-depth and wide-ranging writing, which combines much knowledge of various legal methods with a profound understanding of legal process and the social problems it seeks to solve.
Ben Israel views academic writing as the main part of her professional activity. She believes strongly in the welfare state and feels her writing on this topic is a tool that can be used to mold the law in accordance with her own world views and with her value-based perception of law as a tool for advancing both the individual and society.