For years Academy students have gained critical thinking and debate skills by participating in Model UN—a program designed to teach students about international diplomacy. For one alumna, though, Model UN at Ida Crown Jewish Academy was rehearsal for what would one day become her profession. As director of the General International Law Department at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sarah Weiss Ma’udi (’93) represents Israel in matters of maritime law; water law; international borders; international law relating to natural gas and oil; the recognition of states; Israeli domestic sanctions policies regarding Iran; and Israeli policies with its neighbors. Recalling her days on Model UN, Weiss Ma’udi says, “I live out Model UN in real life. It was fun, and now I get to play that role on TV.”
Prior to coming to the Academy, Weiss Ma’udi attended Hillel Torah, where she says having Bnei Akiva shlichim as teachers deeply influenced her. Sarah remained in touch with one family of shlichim and met her husband over Shabbat dinner at their home in Israel.
She made aliyah completely fluent in Hebrew because of her Hebrew training at Hillel Torah and ICJA. “I always know when a North American I meet is from Chicago. People from Chicago have great Hebrew training.”
Weiss Ma’udi cites her experience on Panim el Panim in high school as a source of her passion for public service and pro-Israel activism. At the same time, her participation in an IDF summer military training program for high school students instilled in her a strong determination to make aliyah once she had completed her academic and professional training in the United States.
In college in the ‘90s, Weiss Ma’udi continued her Israel activism, and during that very optimistic period which included the Madrid Peace Conference and the Oslo Accords, she also became interested in learning Arabic. “I thought, if there’s going to be peace, I need to learn Arabic.” While pursuing her undergraduate degree at University of Pennsylvania, a masters degree at Harvard, and a law degree at New York University, Weiss Ma’udi spent every summer working in Israel, a move that she says made aliyah a smoother process. “Making aliyah is not so easy, so it’s good to have a plan.”
Her education and experience led Weiss Ma’udi to work as an associate lawyer for one of Israel’s top corporate law firms, specializing in international contract law. She also taught public international law at the Ono Academic College in Israel. Before that, she worked at the Israel Ministry of Justice’s International Treaties and Litigation Department. Her current position involves extensive research and writing briefs on matters of international law. Weiss Ma’udi’s responsibilities also include ‘legal hasbara,’ which involves representing Israel’s legal issues and explaining the legal aspects of Israel’s foreign policy.
Legal hasbara is especially important at the United Nations, where Israel is involved in a variety of day-to-day international issues. While not always a focus in the press, these issues, nevertheless, require active involvement by Israel’s international diplomatic corps. As Weiss Ma’udi explains, “We want to be in line with like-minded countries on world issues.”
The recurring phenomenon of criticism of Israel at the U.N. is another issue in which Weiss Ma’udi is involved. Israel is often the focus of disproportionate attention and criticism in certain UN bodies, particularly the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva (the body that gave rise to the Goldstone Report). “Over 50 percent of the resolutions at the HRC are critical of Israel, and it is the only country in that forum that has a standing agenda item,” says Weiss Ma’udi. “Even if you’re critical of Israel, that’s a rather disproportionate percentage when you consider all of the human rights violations worldwide.”
Weiss Ma’udi’s day-to-day work often depends on whether or not Israel is in a crisis mode. During the Palestinian unilateral quest for statehood and the Gaza flotilla, for example, Sarah was working very intensely on developing legal briefs and opinions. She is the Foreign Ministry’s expert on complex maritime legal issues, ranging from the construction of artificial islands in the Mediterranean to the protest flotillas to the Gaza Strip. Currently Weiss Ma’udi heads the Israeli delegation in negotiations with Cyprus on an agreement for the joint development of cross-boundary gas reserves.
Weiss Ma’udi lives in Rehovot with her husband and three young children.