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Middle East Issues





Virginia State Bar Appeases Boycotters; CAMERA Files Freedom of Information Request


In an act of anti-Israel discrimination thinly disguised as resistance to unfair discrimination, the Virginia State Bar announced on Friday, March 27, that it was canceling a planned November study seminar in Jerusalem. The State Bar is not the Virginia Bar Association, an umbrella group for lawyers, but rather an quasi-state agency that regulates admission to the bar and administration of lawyers in the Old Dominion. Bar officials claimed they feared, based on a State Department travel advisory, that “Arab, Muslim and Palestinian” members might be singled out for scrutiny or even denied entrance by Israeli authorities. They reportedly cancelled the trip after receiving an online petition signed by less than 40 of the Bar's approximately 40,000 members “and others.”

Bar President Kevin Edward Martingayle and President-elect Edward Weiner's explanations don't pass the smell test. From their own statements it sounds like they crumbled at the first demands of those who want to marginalize the Jewish state and undermine American support for it as part of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. BDS aims not at Arab-Israeli peace but at destruction of the Jewish state.

The State Bar attempted to justify its cancellation on grounds a U.S. State Department advisory warns that Arabs, Muslims and/or Palestinian Arabs or Palestinian-Americans might face additional security scrutiny on entering or exiting Israel. The Bar assumed that one or more potential trip participants therefore might be denied entry and “we are an inclusive organization and do not discriminate against any religion.” Martingayle and Weiner insisted “we are not expressing opinions regarding Israel's border security measures. We are merely recognizing the reality that our very large and diverse membership … includes individuals who may encounter lengthy examination and possible rejection in attempting to navigate the immigration security procedures in Israel.”

Nonsense. The writer of this Alert, after a dozen uneventful trips to and from Israel, was pulled out of the check-in line at Ben-Gurion International Airport about 10 years ago and asked a series of pointed questions, including about other international travel. Apparently his passport visa stamp showing a recent trip to Tunisia attracted attention. Eventually, his answers proved satisfactory and he boarded without further delay.

Discrimination, or security necessitated by past terrorists attacks and, no doubt, continued attempts? Tens of thousands of Arabs and Muslims, including Israeli and Palestinian Arabs, travel to and from Israel uneventfully ever year. Unlike Americans on domestic flights, they don't usually have to take off their shoes or discard shampoo bottles bigger than three ounces.

Suspicious secrecy—CAMERA requests documents

Bar officials announced no review of the seminar trip, made their decision in secret and revealed it late on Friday—the classic political “document dump” as some observers called it—when controversial news gets less attention than otherwise. The maneuver often indicates something to hide. That's why CAMERA submitted a Virginia State Freedom of Information Act request for all documents, records and e-mails related to the State Bar's action.

What organization, if any, was behind the online petition complaints? Was it the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), an unindicted co-conspirator in the country's biggest terrorism funding trial to date (the 2009 Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development retrial)? What sources did the complainers rely on, other than, reportedly, the rabidly anti-Israel Electronic Intifada Web site and the State Department's advisory? Did State Bar officials survey members—Jewish, Muslim, Christian and others—who've traveled to and from Israel regarding experiences of “discrimination” on entry and exit?

After criticism of the cancellation mounted, Martingayle and Weiner peddled another justification for their move, low registration, barely 30 of the hoped-for 60. If so, why announce cancellation on March 27, four days before the April 1 registration deadline? Why not wait for late deciders? And why not extend the deadline a week or month? November's a long time off. Perhaps a little more publicity and time would have attracted another 30 or so participants—roughly the same number of the Bar's 40,000-plus members “and others” who convinced officials Israel might treat them unfairly.

Perhaps most unconvincingly, the State Bar added—in response to critics—“this was not a political decision and is not a ‘boycott.' We are an inclusive organization and do not discriminate against any religion. Unfortunately, some mischaracterized this decision as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, even going so far to mislabel it as a boycott.”

Let's see: Of the more than 30 countries and the non-state Palestinian Authority stretching from Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean to Pakistan in central Asia, nearly all with Arab and/or Muslim majorities, there is only one with an American-style legal system. That country is Israel. Only the Jewish state has a completely independent judiciary, respects and protects the rights of accused—whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian or others—and upholds U.S. concepts of due process. Arab and Muslim lawyers who step out of line politically not only are discriminated against by courts and governments everywhere from Egypt and Turkey to Saudi Arabia and Iran, but also summarily jailed or worse. A study seminar in Israel makes eminently good sense.

Walks like, quacks like and swims like one …

Not a boycott? Perhaps not consciously, not intentionally. But functionally, being manipulated by a couple dozen anti-Israel activists in an attempt, de facto if not de jure, to support the BDS movement's goal of delegitimizing the Jewish state and re-ghettoizing its supporters? Yes, indeed. If it walks like a duck …

Lanny J. Davis, a prominent Washington, D.C. attorney and former legal adviser to President Bill Clinton, told The Washington Times, “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. 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 trying to do it with discrimination.”

You can't, unless you're the Virginia Bar Association, knuckling under to a handful of anti-Israel obsessives. That's why, in addition to CAMERA, the Jewish Federation of Richmond, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, D.C. and B'nai B'rith International also urged the Virginia State Bar to reconsider and reschedule the Jerusalem study seminar (Virginia lawyers can go to the JCRC's Web site and click on a link to send a message to the State Bar).

For more background on this issue, seeWilliam A. Jacobson'sWeb site Legal Insurrection and posts by Washington-area lawyer Michael I. Krauss at Forbes.com.


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