Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel has never won a case. With a career that spans nearly 50 years, for most, consecutive losses would be a clear sign that it’s time to look for a new profession. However, for Tsemel, winning is not the goal.
Tsemel’s unusual relationship with the Israeli judicial system is the focus of Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaïche’s documentary, Advocate. Dedicating her life to Palestinians embroiled in legal battles with the Israeli courts, she works to get her clients reduced sentences. That might not seem like much of a victory, but that’s the only option, as the people she represents are deemed political prisoners who face life imprisonment or the death penalty.
In Advocate, Tsemel notes that her purpose is to “help Palestinians find justice in Israeli court.” Over the course of her career, she has been steadfast in her mission, representing an array of characters including feminists, fundamentalists, non-violent demonstrators, and armed militants. Through interviews with the sharp-shooting lawyer, statements made in press conferences and old footage, Jones and Bellaïche provide an inside look at the Tsemel’s hectic life. While she is passionate and astute, the pressures of her position are apparent throughout. Her two children make an appearance to discuss just how her work has impacted her personal life.
What Advocate makes clear is that Tsemel believes in fairness. A shining example of what it means to stick to your guns, she has chosen to take on the honourable job of defending people her peers classify as indefensible terrorists. If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that we should always seek to see one’s humanity – no matter the circumstances.
Sunday, Apr 28, 6:00 PM, Scotiabank Theatre 4
Monday, Apr 29, 3:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Sunday, May 5, 6:15 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre