Virginia State Bar boycotting Israel
One of my law firms is having a meeting in May, part of which is scheduled to take place in Virginia. This morning, I had an email from one of my colleagues attaching a link to this article from the Times of Israel reporting that the State Bar Association of Virginia has canceled a November seminar in Israel, claiming that 'many' of its members will not be allowed in because... wait for it... they are Arabs or Muslims.
In a letter sent late Friday night, Kevin Martingayle, president of the Virginia State Bar, wrote, “Upon review of US State Department advisories and other research, and after consultation with our leaders, it has been determined that there is enough legitimate concern to warrant cancellation of the Israel trip and exploration of alternative locations.”Writing in his group blog in the Washington Post, the Volokh Conspiracy's David Bernstein has a few reactions.
Martingayle told the Washington Times that the trip was canceled due to concerns that “many of its members” would not be let in to Israel.
The concerns appear to stem from a change.org petition by the Concerned Members of the Virginia State Bar, which said, “It is without question that Israel employs discriminatory entry and exit policies for US citizens, particularly against visiting Arab- and Muslim-Americans.”
The petition also said, “As members of the VSB, we have taken an oath to uphold our profession’s highest ideals. At the core of these ideals is the belief that no person or group should be subjected to differential treatment on the basis of their immutable characteristics. The location of this year’s Seminar, however, strikes at the heart of our profession’s ideals.”
The petition was closed after the decision to cancel the trip. It had 39 signatures.
(1) The American Bar Association has recently held meetings in Israel, for example here and here [update: along with hundreds of international conferences that are held in Israel every year, including, for example, a conference on Arabic literature with Muslim attendees from abroad.] Virginia has a state agency called the Virginia Israel Advisory Board “that proactively serves as the bridge and facilitator between Israeli companies and the Commonwealth of Virginia.” The idea that either the state bar as an attorney organization or as a state agency has some obligation to avoid Israel is nonsense. Surely Martingayle and colleagues can’t be so naive and out-of-touch to think that the concerns raised are not part of the broader divestment, sanctions, and boycott movement meant to delegitimize Israel.
(2) If the Virginia State Bar is in effect boycotting Israel, I, and I suspect many others, will henceforth be boycotting the State Bar, in my case beyond what is necessary to assist my students, which is my professional obligation. I would hope that no Virginia attorneys who are supporters of Israel will attend whatever alternative venue the State Bar settles on.
(3) As near as I can tell, the only public discussion of all this before Martingayle’s letter was a petition circulated three days ago by anonymous “Concerned Members of the Virginia State Bar” that, as of this writing, has received a grand total of thirty-four signatures. It’s hard to imagine that the Martingayle and colleagues canceled a planned event that already had a hotel booked, a CLE program, and even optional tours set up based on those objections. Who are the “other individuals” mentioned by Martingayle who objected?
(4) Relatedly, as a state agency, the Virginia State Bar is subject to FOIA. If no enterprising journalist is already FOIAing the relevant correspondence that led to this decision, I’m sure somebody else will be.
UPDATE: The email Martingayle sent out is timestamped 9:59 pm on March 27. Yet somehow the virulently anti-Israel “Electronic Intifada” managed to have a copy of the letter on its Facebook page and website more than two hours earlier. Inquiring minds want to know who had a copy of this letter before it was sent out to bar members at large, and why. [Comments below suggest that while I and several others I know received the 9:59 time stamp, other members of the bar received the same message time-stamped earlier. If so, mystery solved.]
Hmmm.FURTHER UPDATE: Tens of thousands of Muslims (and growing) visit Israel each year. The Palestinian Authority officially encourages such visits, while Hamas is against them.