- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Virginia State Bar Association has canceled a trip for its members to learn in Jerusalem later this year after some members campaigned against it, accusing Israel of “unacceptable discriminatory policies and practices” in how it ensures its border security.

The episode, confirmed in an email from Bar President Kevin Martingayle that was obtained by The Washington Times, is the latest example of the impact of an anti-Israel fervor that has swept across some parts of America in recent months as President Obama has feuded with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“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,” Mr. Martingayle wrote in the email. “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.”

Lanny J. Davis, a prominent Democratic lawyer in Washington, said he strongly disagreed with the Bar’s decision, adding that it was similar to a statement made by the president’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, in seeming to conflate Israel’s right to defend itself as discrimination.

“The Virginia State Bar’s false equivalent of defending yourself against terrorists by maintaining strict security procedures at your borders and discrimination offends basic legal principles as well as principles of fairness,” Mr. Davis said in an interview. “You cannot equate what you need to do to secure your families from people who surround you and say they want to destroy you and try doing it with discrimination.”

“This misstatement of history is also reflected in the unfortunate use of the word ‘occupation’ by the president’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, who disagreed with Israel’s ‘occupation’ of the West Bank after it was attack by Arab states in 1967 in an effort to destroy it,” Mr. Davis said. “For 20 years before, those same Arab states never allowed the Palestinian their own state on the West Bank. Why?”

“The Virginia Bar and Mr. McDonough similarly conflate what Israel is forced to do to defend itself again terrorists harbored in Gaza and the West Bank until the Palestinian authority is ready to recognize a secure and safe Jewish state of Israel and commit itself to eliminating the Hamas terrorist within its territories,” Mr. Davis said.

Well-known New York Attorney Alan Dershowitz told the Times that President Obama himself has sparked an anti-Israel culture among liberals, pointing to his ongoing feud with Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I think President Obama has set the tone, I think by himself boycotting Netanyahu and, through his silence, encouraging congressmen to boycott Netanyahu, he has implicitly encouraged others to do the same thing,” Mr. Dershowitz said.

“I wold never hire a lawyer or would never refer a case to a lawyer who would engage in that kind of bigotry,” Mr. Dershowitz said. “It’s immoral, it’s bigoted, it’s un-lawyerly.”

In a phone call with The Washington Times, Mr. Martingayle denied that the trip cancellation was the result of any anti-semitic views, and said the issue occurred when the bar association realized that many of its members would not be allowed to go on the trip because of Israel’s strict border laws.

“We are absolutely not making a political point we are making the point that we have to care about every single one of our members,” Mr. Martingayle said. “We are a large bar, we have over 30,000 members within the state bar and we have to meet the needs of all of them.”

According to Mr. Martingayle, Israel’s border policies, combined with a U.S. Department of State travel advisory kept many people from even signing up for the trip at all.

“If we didn’t have a significant improvement in the number of people signed up for the trip by April first then we wouldn’t have been able to go anyway,” he said.

But an online petition against the trip suggested that some Virginia lawyers chose to boycott the trip over political views.

As of Saturday, 37 members of the VSB had signed an open letter on change.org commenting on Israel’s discriminatory policies.

“As members of the VSB, we have taken an oath to uphold our profession’s highest ideals. At the core of these ideals is the belief that no person or group should be subjected to differential treatment on the basis of their immutable characteristics,” the change.org petition reads. “The location of this year’s Seminar, however, strikes at the heart of our profession’s ideals. In particular, by holding this year’s Seminar in Israel, the VSB accepts discriminatory practices and policies against Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian members of the VSB on the basis of their race, religion, and national origin, effectively preventing these members from attending.”

Mr. Martingayle said that the petition did not play a part in the Bar’s decision to cancel the trip but did draw attention to the fact that many of the VSB’s lawyers would not have an equal opportunity to participate.

Mr. Dershowitz argued that by boycotting the trip the lawyers signing the petition were in fact breaking their oaths saying, “The spirit of the law prohibits discrimination based on national origin.”

“It’s usually a small number of people who are trying to single out Israel. These are probably folks who have traveled to Iran, China, Venezuela, countries that have massive human rights violations,” Mr. Dershowitz said, adding, “By singling out Israel as a place not to go it’s simple bigotry.”

The American Bar Association has held multiple meetings in Israel, including an International Labor and Employment Law Committee Midyear meeting in May 2014, and a conference on law, business and society and U.S./Israel/Global relationships in 2012.

The VSB has held it’s Midyear legal seminars in Rome, Paris, Madrid, Buenos Aires, and San Juan over the past several years.

Organizers had already booked the hotel, set a program and even arranged optional tours for this year’s trip to Jerusalem before it was cancelled.

“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,” Mr. Martingayle wrote, adding, “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.”

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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