VSB’s political deed needs to be undone.
On March 27, 2015, the Virginia State Bar, the state licensing agency, precipitously cancelled a planned mid-year seminar in Israel just a few hours after 36 VSB members emailed the VSB Council complaining of discriminatory Israeli border policies.
With little time for investigation or opportunity for opposing viewpoints to be heard, the Israel tip was cancelled without the Council being consulted or permitted to vote. We expect that when VSB complies with the FOIA request served by Judicial Watch on our behalf, we will learn more details.
The Israel trip was undersubscribed and probably would have been cancelled on April 1 anyway, but VSB acting through President Kevin Martingayle and President-Elect Edward Weiner, chose to focus on alleged Israeli border policies when the membership was informed by mass email in late afternoon/evening.
The push back was swift, leading to a March 29 VSB explanation which again focused on alleged discriminatory policies, while disavowing that the cancellation was political. That March 29 doubling down was just as ill-advised as the original March 27 cancellation.
As Prof. David Bernstein of Volokh Conspiracy (The Washington Post) points out, VSB should have issued a correction and apology rather than compounding the error. Bernstein thinks the apology should have looked like this:
“Dear Colleagues: Please disregard our email on Friday cancelling the planned midyear meeting in Jerusalem. As of Friday morning, we had only about twenty bar members signed up for the meeting, not nearly enough to meet our minimum of sixty needed for the trip. That morning, we received a petition from a handful of bar members requesting that we change the venue for the midyear meeting due to discriminatory security policies by Israel. Already frustrated by low signups for the trip, and concerned that we were inviting an unanticipated political controversy, we panicked and hastily canceled the trip without taking the time to properly investigate the matter, including the fact that there is a well-organized international campaign to boycott Israel that we had inadvertently seemed to support. We apologize. The trip is still on, but will still need to cancel it if we don’t get more signups, and soon.”
[Note: Quoted text corrected from original entry.]
Of course, no wording from VSB since then has looked anything like Bernstein’s proposed apology. To the contrary, Martingayle says he will not apologize.
Why is a correction and apology so critical? Why have various Jewish groups, like the American Jewish Committee, the Greater D.C. Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Richmond, called for a correction and apology?
Because we understand the nature of the anti-Israel boycott movement. The boycott movement is not about non-discrimination, it’s about using any tool, including false allegations and lawfare, to break down Israel’s relations with the world.
Both Martingayle and Weiner say they were unaware of the anti-Israel boycott movement. That’s their fault, and perhaps if more than a few hours had been given to deliberation, and opposing voices heard, they would have learned how VSB was being used.
Early on I predicted the VSB action would be exploited by the anti-Israel boycott movement.
And like night follows day, the anti-Israel movement is celebrating, as reported by Daniel Harper at The Weekly Standard, Anti-Israel Groups Praise Virginia State Bar for Boycotting Israel (full letter at the link):
Anti-Israel groups are rallying around the Virginia State Bar after the legal group announced the cancellation of a planned trip to Israel. The support is coming in the form of a letter signed by 40 groups, which are part of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
“We write to commend the Virginia State Bar Association for its decision to cancel its Midyear Legal Seminar in Jerusalem. By cancelling the planned seminar, the Virginia State Bar Association has reaffirmed its commitment to the principles of equality enshrined in U.S. law,” reads the letter addressed to the president of the Virginia State Bar, Kevin E. Martingayle.
While “40 groups” is an overstatement, since there were multiple chapters of single organizations involved, it nonetheless contains the support of some of the worst anti-Israel groups. Jewish Voice for Peace, possibly the most aggressive boycott group which uses Jewish identity as a shield, is on the letter along with several of its chapters.
It was a JVP-led protest against a NYC Council trip to Israel that disrupted a NYC Council vote commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz in January 2015.
Both Martingayle and Weiner say they didn’t mean to put the VSB in the middle of the Middle East dispute, but they did.
They made a political statement even if that is not what they intended, and they made VSB a hero of the anti-Israel movement, even though the VSB Council and membership never agreed to assume that status. And even though it is the policy of the Commonwealth to build, not tear down, economic relations with Israel.
This deed needs to be undone.
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