The Virginia bar continues to disgrace itself [Updated]

As we reported here, the Virginia State Bar (VSB) cancelled its midyear legal seminar trip to Israel. In response to stinging criticism of this decision, including from the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, VSB president Kevin Martingayle sent this letter trying to justify his decision:

Dear Fellow Members of the Virginia State Bar,

On Friday March 27th, we canceled the Virginia State Bar’s planned Midyear Legal Seminar trip to Israel. The decision was based primarily on a U.S. State Department advisory: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/israel.html, “Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements.” We were forced to conclude there were potential difficulties some of our VSB members might face in obtaining entry to Israel. Additionally, we were well short of the required number of confirmed attendees necessary for the trip to proceed.

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. This was not a political decision and is not a “boycott.” We are an inclusive organization and do not discriminate against any religion.

Unfortunately, some mischaracterized this decision as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, even going so far as to mislabel it as a “boycott.” Although the message was sent over the president’s signature, we jointly drafted and approved what was sent Friday night. Apparently we could have done a better job of explaining the situation and decision. We are writing now to provide further clarity.

Our decision was not based on any political factors or influences. We understand that Israel is in a difficult position when it comes to security. We are not expressing opinions regarding Israel’s border security measures. We are merely recognizing the reality that our very large and diverse membership, consisting of well over 40,000 members, includes individuals who may encounter lengthy examination and possible rejection in attempting to navigate the immigration security procedures in Israel.

You may recall that on March 25, 2015, we sent a message urging VSB members to sign up for both the Israel trip and the Annual Meeting in Virginia Beach. We very much wanted the Israel trip to be a success and were trying to reach the required number of participants for it to be a go. We deeply regret that a combination of circumstances led to the trip’s cancellation, and we also regret that our good faith efforts and decisions may have been misinterpreted and misunderstood.

We remain committed to the core objectives of the VSB: public protection, access to justice and improvement of the legal profession. Thank you for reading and thank you for allowing us the privilege of serving.

Kevin E. Martingayle, President

Edward L. Weiner, President-elect & Chair, Midyear Legal Seminar Committee

Note that Martingayle is now claiming that “a combination of circumstances” led to the trip’s cancellation. He cites alleged difficulties in getting enough VSB members to sign up for the seminar.

However, his cancellation letter cited only allegedly discriminatory entry policies and practices by Israel. Thus, Martingayle’s revised rationale, concocted under duress, should not be credited.

Martingayle’s initially-stated rationale — potential entry problems for some members — doesn’t hold up well either. He appears to have based his decision on a petition by anti-Israel members and outsiders, coupled with a statement by someone at the Israeli embassy that Israel’s security protocols are strict and could lead to exclusion or restriction of some VSB members.

It’s hardly a scoop that Israel has strict entry procedures and that it can’t guarantee entry to every member of a large organization. Martingayle surely understood this when the VSB selected Israel.

What changed after the VSB made the selection? The answer is the petition by a small number of anti-Israelis.

As Martingayle said in his initial, more honest letter, he was advised of “some unacceptable discriminatory policies and practices pertaining to border security” and upon review he concluded that there were enough legitimate concerns to warrant cancellation. However, Martingayle declined to say which of the concerns cited by the anti-Israel petitioners were “legitimate.”

In his follow-up letter, Martingayle doesn’t say anything about “discrimination.” He simply points out that the VSB “includes individuals who may encounter lengthy examination and possible rejection in attempting to navigate the immigration security procedures in Israel.”

But this “may” also happen to people entering the United States. If you get the chance, look into the area at Dulles Airport where people trying to enter the U.S. are being detained for questioning. You won’t see a random cross-section of ethnic groups.

In fact, as William Jacobson points out, CAIR has lodged the same kind of complaint against U.S. entry procedures that the anti-Israel petitioners presented to the VSB.

The key questions regarding Israeli security procedures are those posed by Prof. Jacobson:

How many people are questioned more intensively? How many are barred? In how many cases did Israel have legitimate security concerns such that more extensive questioning was reasonable?

How many of those complaints were real, and how many were used to create a pretext for the Israel boycott movement? Are those rates higher than for people entering the U.S.?

Have people attending other bar association trips to Israel been barred?

How is it that so many groups and so many millions of tourists visit Israel, yet the Virginia State Bar almost alone has decided that a de facto boycott is in order?

These questions become particularly important because Israel-haters commonly present false claims about border security procedures — claims intended to dupe people like Martingayle into steering clear of Israel. Jacobson observes:

At the Modern Language movement in 2014, a resolution was introduced condemning “arbitrary” Israeli denials of visas to academics wanting to visit the West Bank. That language was removed when the accusation was revealed to be false at an open debate at the MLA’s annual meeting, and data were presented showing the Israeli visa denial rate for U.S. academics was a small fraction of the U.S. visa denial rate to Israelis.

In the case of the VSB, there was no open debate. The Israel haters presented a petition full of complaints, the most inflammatory of which came from the Arab American Institute, a virulently anti-Israel group. The other side appears to have had no say, except that the Israeli embassy confirmed what, as noted above, Martingayle surely understood all along.

In reality, Israel welcomes and accommodates tourists, including Arabs. According to Prof. David Bernstein:

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.]

Israel strongly encourages tourism from Muslim countries, to the point that Hamas attacked an Israeli efforts to encourage tourism to Jerusalem from Islamic countries. It called this a “dangerous Zionist plot.”

Hamas would have nothing to fear if Israel were persecuting Arabs who want to visit.

It’s unfortunate that Martingayle has made the VSB an instrument of the boycott Israel movement. I doubt that Martingayle and other VSB leaders are anti-Israel in any strong sense. After all, they initially set the seminar in Jerusalem.

Instead, Martingayle appears mindlessly to have subscribed to trumped up grievances cast in the kind of politically correct language that causes a certain type of person to respond like Pavlov’s dogs. It’s through such disgraceful knee-jerk reactions that the leftist, anti-West rot spreads.

UPDATE: I don’t mean to deny in the first two paragraphs under the text of the recent Martingayle letter that, at the time of the cancellation decision, the VSB was short of the required number of attendees for the Jerusalem seminar. It’s my understanding that, in fact, the trip was under-subscribed and that the sign-up deadline was approaching.

However, the fact that Martingayle didn’t initially state this as a reason for cancelling the seminar casts serious doubt on whether under-subscription was the real reason, or even part of it, for the decision. To me, it strongly suggests that the subscription issue is a pretext and that, but for the anti-Israel letter, the VSB wouldn’t have pulled the plug when it did.

The situation is analogous to an employment discrimination case in which the employer states one reason for, say, firing an employee and then, after being accused of discrimination, adds a new reason. Even if the new reason has a solid factual basis, the fact that it wasn’t offered initially is evidence that the new reason is a “pretext,” not the true rationale.

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