On Friday, March 27, 2015, Virginia State Bar President Kevin E. Martingayle sent an email to the membership cancelling a planned Mid-Year Legal Seminar in Jerusalem. It is unclear what time it went out, with some members referencing late afternoon or evening.

The full letter is reprinted later in this post. The letter cites unspecified complaints by unspecified people about unspecified discriminatory practices as the basis for the decision.

This appears to be the first time — at least as far as I know — that the anti-Israel boycott movement has infiltrated a professional lawyer organization, and one that is a state agency at that.

There have been worldwide attempts to prevent scholarly and professional associations holding conferences in Israel, and a conference boycott is a key part of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.  The VA State Bar has become another cog in the large anti-Israel boycott wheel, and is being used by those pushing the boycott agenda.

We have seen at the Modern Language Association, the American Historical Association, and other academic groups that false and misleading claims of discriminatory travel treatment are made against Israel. Those boycotts mostly have failed when there was an open airing of the claims and an ability of members to push back against the anti-Israel propaganda.

There does not appear, to have been such an open and public process at the Virginia State Bar. Certainly a plan to effectively boycott Israel would have garnered substantial national attention, as this boycott will.

David Bernstein at Volokh Conspiracy (The Washington Post), makes several points, including this:

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.

This clearly was a well-planned, under-the-radar move, and it is odd that the email was circulated on a Friday night long after the seminar was planned.

The VA State Bar already had a hotel reserved for the event, which was well-advertised, and had registration and travel procedures in place.

Virginia State Bar Mid Year Legal Seminar Brochure Jerusalem top

There was a full brochure produced for the trip:

Virginia State Bar Mid Year Legal Seminar Brochure Jerusalem by Legal Insurrection

Here is the original website entry (now removed):

Virginia State Bar Mid Year Legal Seminar Update 2-27-2015

It has been replaced with an entry with destination to be announced:

Virginia State Bar Mid Year Legal Seminar Update 3-27-2015

Here is the email from the VA State Bar President, as printed in Bernstein’s column (and also sent to me by another VA State Bar member):

Virginia State Bar President Banner

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.

Best regards,

Kevin E. Martingayle,

President, Virginia State Bar

Who was behind this? Its unclear. There was a Change.org petition that garnered only 39 signatures, but claimed this as a victory:

Virginia State Bar Change.org Petition

Here are the comments as of this writing:

Virginia State Bar Change.org Petition Signatories 2

Virginia State Bar Change.org Petition Signatories 1

Because of the vague nature of the email announcement, I emailed VA State Bar President Martingayle (and also the professional staff of the VA State Bar), as follows:

I read the article in The Washington Post about a letter you apparently sent out on behalf of the Virginia State Bar cancelling a seminar in Israel.

Can you answer the following questions:

1. Who are the “Certain members of the Virginia State Bar” and the “other individuals” who “expressed objections to the VSB’s plan to take the Midyear Legal Seminar trip in November to Jerusalem”

2. What exactly were the allegedly “unacceptable discriminatory policies and practices pertaining to border security that affect travelers to the nation” and who provided you with such information?

3. What was the “other research” upon which you relied and who provided it?

4. Who were the “leaders” consulted with prior to the determination “that there is enough legitimate concern to warrant cancellation of the Israel trip and exploration of alternative locations.”

As of this writing, I have received no responses. I also emailed the press contacts for  Gov. Terry McAuliffe for a reaction, but have not heard back.

Bernstein also makes the point that the VA State Bar is subject to Virginia’s FOIA statute.

Judicial Watch has agreed to work with Legal Insurrection in filing and pursuing a FOIA request to find out who was behind this, who was involved, what the process was, and more. We will spare no effort to get to the truth of what happened here, how the anti-Israel boycott movement infiltrated the Virginia State Bar, and how this sneak attack on the legitimacy of Israel flew under the radar for so long.

Working with Judicial Watch, it took us two years to get the key documents out of the District of Columbia regarding the non-prosecution of David Gregory.

We will get to the bottom of this.  No matter how long it takes.

[Note 3-29-105: The Virginia State Bar, a state agency, is not the same thing as the Virginia Bar Association, a voluntary non-governmental entity.]

UPDATE 2-29-2015: Virginia Speaker demands State Bar reverse Israel boycott