Cornell University

January 10 2011

Guiding Antagonists to Agreement

Adler '62 lauded for leadership of Israeli National Labor Court

Steve Adler '62Steve Adler '62 had no idea as a boy in Brooklyn that he would become a professional peacemaker and one of Israel's most influential leaders.

He didn't dream he would become president of Israel's National Labor Court and help sculpt the nation's social policy.

Retired since November, Adler was honored last week at a law conference at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he is a visiting lecturer.

One of the speakers was Harry Katz, ILR's Kenneth F. Kahn Dean and Jack Sheinkman Professor.

Adler, Katz said in an interview, "epitomizes what ILR hopes to stir within its students -- a combination of analytic perceptiveness and concern for the common good."

"Steve Adler has had a remarkable career as a judge and mediator. We are exceptionally proud of the fact that he is a graduate of the ILR School and for several years has been teaching a course each spring semester at the school, sharing his wealth of experience with our students."

Adler, who will teach this winter at ILR, was a teen when he became interested in labor relations after reading stories in The New York Times about labor disputes.

At ILR, Adler's most memorable professors included Milton Konvitz and Jean McKelvey.

"An especially memorable class was the one which took us to various places of work, I still speak about my visit to the coal mine," Adler said in an interview last week.

After graduating from Columbia Law School, Adler worked for the National Labor Relations Board. Inspired to live in Israel by the Six Day War, he moved there in 1967 and learned Hebrew on the job.

"I was told that a lawyer could not make a living in Israel, so my wife and I planned on spending a year in Israel and returning to California," Adler said. "After that year we liked life in Israel and decided to stay another year, and another year and then for good."

During a career spanning five decades in Israel's labor court and a 13-year term as its president, he earned a reputation for fairness and for defusing strike threats.

Adler said he was guided by "learned skills and maturity on how people think, act and how to understand and respect them."

The hardest part of being a peacemaker, Adler said, is "the patience and time required to understand the problems facing the parties, their positions and interests and their possible common grounds ... keeping calm and controlling my feelings ... thinking of a convincing way to present the parties with a way that they can initiate solutions and positions which will be a basis for an agreement."

His toughest time as labor court president, Adler said, was when the Histadrut union threatened a strike that would have shut down Israel’s economy.

"My mediation meeting with the minister of the treasury and the president of the Histadrut was the last possibility to prevent that strike. I succeeded in convincing them to reach an agreement and the strike was avoided," he said.

Adler averted other huge strikes, leading one magazine to name him among the 100 most important people in Israel.

High-profile successes helped empower him professionally, but "humility and knowing my place in life, society and family is, in my opinion, an important aspect of my personality," he said.

"As I tell my colleagues, when I come home from work, I still take out the garbage and help my wife with the food shopping."