The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and B’nai B’rith International condemned the Virginia State Bar for canceling its legal seminar in Jerusalem.
“It’s a reprehensible decision,” the JCRC’s executive director, Ron Halber, told the Washington Jewish Week on Monday. “It’s based on politics. It’s not based on logic. And it contravenes the spirit and the will of Virginia and the people of Virginia and its leadership. It is a disastrous decision.”
In a letter sent to members late Friday night, Kevin Martingayle, president of the Virginia State Bar, said that the Midyear Legal Seminar trip to Jerusalem scheduled for November would be changed to another venue due to “unacceptable discriminatory policies and practices pertaining to border security.”
On Monday, the JCRC released a statement noting that Virginia legislators unanimously passed a resolution five weeks ago reaffirming the friendship between the United States and Israel, and that since 2000 the state-funded Virginia Israel Advisory Board has strengthened business and investment ties with Israel, according to the Washington Jewish Week.
The statement called on the bar as an administrative agency of the Supreme Court of Virginia to “immediately release all documents related to this decision” and for the “immediate reinstatement of the trip to Israel and for the Bar to apologize to its membership and the people of Virginia.”
The JCRC also said that the Bar’s decision “provides comfort and a rallying cry for supporters of BDS,” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
In a statement posted late Sunday night on the state bar agency’s website, Martingayle and Edward Weiner, president-elect and chair of the seminar committee, wrote that a U.S. Embassy official in Washington had “expressed a desire to facilitate the trip but acknowledged that security protocols are strict and could lead to exclusion or restriction” of some bar members.
“In the face of this information, we felt it necessary and appropriate to forego this trip,” they wrote. “This was not a political decision and is not a ‘boycott.’ We are an inclusive organization and do not discriminate against any religion.” B’nai B’rith called the decision “highly regrettable” and urged the agency to reconsider, adding that the “situation plays into the hands of the malicious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”
“Israel’s entry and exit procedures, while certainly strict, are entirely necessary in light of the country’s onerous security predicament,” B’nai B’rith also wrote.
A change.org petition signed by 39 bar members had called on the state bar agency to cancel the trip, objecting to Israel’s “discriminatory entry and exit policies for U.S. citizens, particularly against visiting Arab- and Muslim- Americans.” The petition was closed after the decision to cancel the trip.