I was pretty shocked to find the following email in my inbox:
Dear Fellow Members of the Virginia State Bar,
Certain members of the Virginia State Bar and other individuals have expressed objections to the VSB’s plan to take the Midyear Legal Seminar trip in November to Jerusalem. It was stated that there are some unacceptable discriminatory policies and practices pertaining to border security that affect travelers to the nation. Upon review of U.S. 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.
Undoubtedly, this news will disappoint some VSB members. But we are a state agency that strives for maximum inclusion and equality, and that explains this action. Fortunately, we still anticipate being able to find a suitable location for the November seminar trip, and we will send out further news very soon.
Finally, we are pleased that our members and citizens feel able to express concerns and look to us to protect rights. In the end, we are all part of the same team, and the VSB will continue to stay focused on advancing its primary objectives—public protection, access to justice, and improvement of the profession.
As always, I appreciate having the honor of serving as your president.
Kevin E. Martingayle,
President, Virginia State Bar
A few reactions:
(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.]
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.