On Friday, March 27, Vi rg i n i a State Bar (VSB) President Kevin Martingayle sent an email to members of the bar, which caused a fair amount of upset in local Jewish communities. Martingayle’s message notified VSB members that their upcoming Midyear Legal Seminar, which was scheduled to take place in Jerusalem, was cancelled. Immediately, some labeled this action as a boycott, and 40 organizations supporting the BDS Movement, which advocates for widespread boycotts of Israel, produced a statement thanking the VSB for this cancellation.
Perhaps most troublesome is the VSB’s waffling regarding the reason for the trip’s cancellation. Initially, the bar claimed that, “there are some unacceptable discriminatory policies and practices pertaining to [Israeli] border security that affect travelers to the nation. Upon review of U.S. State Department advisories… it has been determined that there is enough legitimate concern to warrant cancellation of the Israel trip.” A few days later, in a subsequent email, Martingayle added that “we were well short of the required number of confirmed attendees necessary for the trip to proceed.” Well, why didn’t the bar just say so initially?
If the VSB had failed to recruit the required minimum number of participants for their Israel seminar, surely they could have just cancelled based on low numbers. Had they done so, they could have avoided the public relations disaster they began through an accusation that Israel discriminates against certain individuals attempting to enter the country and making a statement that appeared to ally themselves with the BDS Movement, from which they have attempted to distance themselves.
Incredibly, the VSB claims their cancellation was a result of Israel’s discriminatory failure to ensure entry to Israel for all of its members, some of whom are “ individuals who may encounter lengthy examination and possible rejection.” However, no one has asked why Israel might bar their entry. There is a false underlying assumption that American citizens must be allowed entry to Israel, or any other country. Is this so? Are all countries required to let any non-citizens into their territory? Obviously not.
The U.S. State Department’s travel warning is very clear that “The security environment remains complex in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.” No doubt the Israelis feel vulnerable with Islamic terrorist organizations surrounding their borders, such as Iran-backed Hezbollah and Hamas, not to mention ISIS. Israelis have the right and the responsibility to ensure that those entering their country do not constitute security threats. Recent memories of violent terrorist attacks and missile barrages give ample reason for such policies. Those who are not found to constitute such a threat would be granted entry. If the VSB was concerned that some of its members would not be permitted to enter, they could have undergone the process of pre-clearing their members through the Israeli consulate. Why they didn’t is anyone’s guess.
Israelis, like Americans, have every right to deny entry to individuals coming to their borders. Despite this, millions of non-citizens of all races, religions, ethnicities and national origins enter Israel as tourists each year. In fact, data from 2012 shows that of some 626,000 Americans travelling to Israel as tourists, only 142 were rejected—a refusal rate of 0.023%. In comparison, the American refusal rate for Israeli applicants for tourist visas was 5.4%, making America’s entry policies much more restrictive than Israel’s. Given the rather unremarkable nature of Israel’s policies, it makes no sense that the VSB should be accusing Israel of discriminatory practices.
At this point, the VSB appears unwilling to engage on this issue any longer. The decision to cancel the Israel seminar is unlikely to be reversed due to low registration numbers. Meanwhile, our Jewish and pro-Israel communities have learned that no institution is impervious to attacks from the unyielding BDS Movement. Together, we must be vigilant in speaking truth and providing context where Israel’s legitimacy is assaulted. Our role as advocates is to engage respectfully and thoughtfully with those institutions which have been victims of Israel’s true detractors.
Furthermore, we can be proud that Israel does not practice discrimination at its borders. Those who overlook Israel’s legitimate security concerns in an effort to delegitimize the Jewish state and provide ammunition to Israel’s detractors must be called to the stand, and the record must be corrected.
—Noam Gilboord is the director of Community Strategy for the Israel Action Network. The Israel Action Network is a joint initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America (the national umbrella agency of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater) and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (the Community Relations Council’s national umbrella agency).
by Noam Gilboord