Statement on Virginia State Bar decision to cancel seminar in Israel

by | Apr 3, 2015 | Other News

The Tidewater Jewish community joins with the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington in their statements of condemnation following the Virginia State Bar’s decision to cancel their Midyear Legal Seminar in Israel in November and their communication on this decision over the past few days. We are shocked and highly concerned by both the decision and the manner in which it was communicated.

On March 27, the Virginia State Bar (VSB) e-mailed its members and canceled its planned trip to Israel scheduled for later this year citing Israel’s alleged “unacceptable discriminatory policies and practices pertaining to border security that affect travelers to the nation.”

The VSB statement that Israel’s “discriminatory” practices and inference that Israel’s visitor-entry procedures may be racially or religiously biased, offended many in the Commonwealth and around the globe. Not only was the reference factually incorrect and offensive, but it was highly inappropriate for the VSB to make a statement which could only be perceived as political.

On March 29, the VSB emailed its membership a second time in an attempt to clarify the reason for its decision to cancel, stating, “We are merely recognizing the reality that our very large and diverse membership, consisting of well over 40,000 members, includes individuals who may encounter lengthy examination and possible rejection in attempting to navigate the immigration security procedures in Israel.”

The clarification made things worse. The Sunday email again based the trip cancellation, in part, on the erroneous assumption that Israeli visitor-entry policies may discriminate against some VSB members on an impermissible or unfair basis.

It is certainly true that Israel, as with every country, may deny admission into its country, people it determines to be security threats.

As with all countries, Israel needs to take care that visitors to her country do not pose a security threat while traveling there. While Israel may turn away visitors it determines to be security threats, so do Great Britain, France, and Italy, all places where VSB members have travelled as part of VSB sponsored trips.

The United States reserves for itself the right to bar entry to individuals who our government determines to be security threats.

Thus, the VSB has set two different standards in its treatment of travel to foreign countries. For other countries in the world, the VSB will sponsor trips with appropriate deference to the host country’s authority to determine who may enter. For Israel, though, the VSB will not sponsor a trip absent an assurance by the Israeli government, in advance, that VSB members will be exempt from Israel’s ordinary security procedures. The VSB is holding Israel to a separate standard.

The VSB’s choice, willingly or unwillingly, to apply a separate and impossible standard to Israel effectively aligned its policies with those of the pernicious Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

BDS rejects Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish democratic state in the ancestral Jewish homeland. The movement singles out Israel for demonization, while consistently applying double standards that undermine Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism and radical extremism.

Neither the U.S. nor the Israeli government, nor any country, can guarantee the entry of any individual without review. That said, every year millions of people of all nationalities travel to Israel without any hindrance or delay.

Israel’s entry and exit procedures, while certainly strict, are entirely necessary in light of the country’s onerous security predicament. And while the VSB cited the State Department website’s words of caution to those travelling to Israel and the concern some members expressed about being admitted into the country, the BDS movement frequently distorts complex security considerations in its effort to falsely depict Israel as dismissive of civil liberties.

We feel certain that those consequences of the VSB’s decision to cancel its Israel trip were entirely unintended; and therefore, we ask that the VSB acknowledge its mistake and take swift action.

First, we seek a written apology from the VSB for its statements that run counter to the historic relationship between the Commonwealth and Israel, reaffirmed recently through the unanimously approved State of Virginia House Joint Resolution 659, commending the State of Israel, declaring “…Israel is the greatest friend of the United States in the Middle East” and citing the friendship between Israel and the Commonwealth of Virginia as a relationship “that strengthens each passing year.” This resolution reminds all Virginians of the commitment our legislature made to the State of Israel.

Second, the VSB should retract in writing to its members its statement concerning alleged unacceptable “discriminatory policies and practices pertaining to border security that affect travelers to the nation.” In addition, it should emphasize that it has no reason to believe that any VSB member would be denied admission to Israel for any improper reason, as was the case with prior VSB trips to other nations.

Third, we call upon the VSB to work closely with the Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater to conduct an educational program within the next twelve months targeted at informing VSB membership on the nefarious nature and dangers of the BDS movement.

by the Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater