Did the Virginia State Bar tell its members the truth?

I wrote here and here about the Virginia State Bar’s decision to cancel a seminar it had scheduled in Jerusalem. The cancellation occurred after a small number of anti-Israeli petitioners objected.

VSB president Kevin Martingayle tried to defend the decision in two letters to members. I reprinted the first letter, which announced the cancellation, in my first post and the second letter in my follow-up piece.

The second letter, co-written by Martingayle and VSB President-Elect Edward Weiner, states in part:

President-elect Edward L. Weiner, chair of the Midyear Legal Seminar Committee, communicated with the Israeli Embassy. An embassy official expressed a desire to facilitate the trip but acknowledged that security protocols are strict and could lead to exclusion or restriction of some VSB members.

In the face of this information, we felt it necessary and appropriate to forego this trip.

But did anyone at the Israeli embassy actually give Weiner the information he and Martingayle describe? The answer seems to be: no.

Prof. William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection emailed Weiner to ask whether, in fact, he talked with the Embassy regarding entry requirements, and to provide details. According to Jacobson, Weiner responded as follows:

Although I asked about entry requirements, I was told that was a security matter. The embassy could not speak to and couldn’t make representations about what security would require.

In a follow-up email, Weiner told Jacobson:

I would add that I understood the man couldn’t speak to how people would be handled upon attempting to enter Israel when I couldn’t tell him who the people were.

In these emails Weiner acknowledges that the embassy did not tell him that security measures could lead to exclusion or restriction of some VSB members. Rather, the person Weiner talked to said he couldn’t discuss security requirements or how they would apply to VSB members.

Weiner also told Jacobson that he was the only person from the VSB to discuss the issue with the Israeli embassy.

Weiner’s admission strikes me as devastating for two reasons. First, as I read his emails, they show that the representation he made to VSB members — that the embassy told Weiner that security procedures could lead to exclusion or restriction of some VSB members — isn’t true.

Second, the Martingayle-Weiner letter, as I read it, asserts a direct causal relationship between the alleged statement of the embassy — the one the embassy didn’t make — and the decision to cancel the seminar. To be sure, the letter mentions other information, i.e., a State Department advisory and a shortage of members who had signed up for the trip.

But under-subscription wasn’t even mentioned in the letter announcing and initially explaining the cancellation. And, as Jacobson points out:

[T]he State Department advisory sheds no light on whether any particular VSB member or group of members would in fact be barred entry. Israel receives tens of thousands of visitors each year from Muslim countries, without problem.

The State Department advisory speaks only of some unspecified number of cases in which some people have been more intensively questioned or delayed entry, just as happens at U.S. ports of entry.

Accordingly, the personal communication with the Israeli Embassy, as described in the Martingayle-Weiner letter, is key to the VSB’s defense of its actions. Yet, the personal communication apparently was not as the letter describes it.

Something is rotten here. I suspect it is this: the VSB leadership mindlessly bought into an anti-Israel narrative and, in trying to demonstrate otherwise, is tying itself up in knots.

The leaders should admit they acted rashly and unwisely, and they should apologize.

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