Virginia State Bar Accused of Boycotting Israel; Media Relations Failure Ensues

Virginia State Bar Accused of Boycotting Israel; Media Relations Failure Ensues

The Virginia State Bar, an agency under the judicial branch of the Commonwealth of Virginia has canceled a trip to Israel.  Unequipped for the media storm that followed, the VSB stumbled in its attempts to remedy the early coverage.  Even after clarifying statements it appears the trip was canceled, in part, for political reasons.[read_more] As we all know, President Obama’s

The Virginia State Bar, an agency under the judicial branch of the Commonwealth of Virginia has canceled a trip to Israel.  Unequipped for the media storm that followed, the VSB stumbled in its attempts to remedy the early coverage.  Even after clarifying statements it appears the trip was canceled, in part, for political reasons.[read_more]

As we all know, President Obama’s treatment of Israel has left even this noninterventionist crying for military and diplomatic support for our key ally in the middle east.  A recent visit by Bibi Netanyahu to Congress showed both the strength and grace of a true world leader, and the pettiness of President Obama.

Without much fanfare, the Virginia State Bar planned a mid-year legal seminar trip to Jerusalem.  On Frida, March 27, 2015 at approximately 10:00 PM members of the Virginia State Bar were notified that this trip was being canceled.

What is the Virginia State Bar?

The Virginia State Bar is a Virginia state government agency that is overseen by the Supreme Court of Virginia.  All licensed attorneys in Virginia are members of the Virginia State Bar, and we all pay annual dues to be members.  The Virginia State Bar regulates attorneys and the practice of law generally in Virginia.  By and large they do a good job of it even refusing to give Joe Morrissey his law license back (until overruled by the Supreme Court of Virginia).  There is a separate entity called the “Virginia Bar Association” that is a private entity for which membership is voluntary.  The “Virginia Bar Association” has nothing to do with this trip or its cancellation.

Canceling the trip

Most members of the Virginia State Bar did not even notice that a trip had been planned to go to Jerusalem.  At 10:00 PM on Friday night (the absolute best time to bury a story) an email was sent to all members of the VSB informing us that the mid-year trip to Israel had been cancelled.  It stated:

vsb

Dear Fellow Members of the Virginia State Bar,

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. 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.

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.

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.

As always, I appreciate having the honor of serving as your president.

Best regards,

Kevin E. Martingayle

President, Virginia State Bar

Here are your key takeaways from the email:

“Certain members of the Virginia State Bar and other individuals have expressed objections”

“there is enough legitimate concern to warrant cancellation of the Israel trip and exploration of alternative locations.”

It seems pretty clear, somebody objected to the mid-year seminar being in Israel, and the VSB found those expressed concerns to be well founded.

The VSB was not ready for the aggressive media reaction

The Washington Times hit first

If we didn’t have a significant improvement in the number of people signed up for the trip by April 1, then we wouldn’t have been able to go anyway,” [Mr. Martingayle] said.

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

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.

The petition can be found here.

Seriously liberals?

Then came the Washington Post

Virginia State Bar cancels Israel trip, citing ‘discriminatory’ border policies…

Weiner [Chair of the mid- year legal seminar Committee] said that as interest was falling short, the association received the petition, which was signed by 39 members of the bar…

On March 28 David Bernstein of the Volokh Conspiracy (A widely read political blog) published:

Virginia State Bar boycotts Israel

What is an organization (that, by design, receives very little media attention) besieged by negative publicity to do?

Issue a clarifying statement on Sunday March 29, 2015 at about 9:00 PM:

Dear Fellow Members of the Virginia State Bar,

On Friday March 27th, we canceled the Virginia State Bar’s planned Midyear Legal Seminar trip to Israel. The decision was based primarily on a U.S. State Department advisory:  http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/israel.html, “Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements.” We were forced to conclude there were potential difficulties some of our VSB members might face in obtaining entry to Israel. Additionally, we were well short of the required number of confirmed attendees necessary for the trip to proceed.

President-elect Edward L. Weiner, chair of the Midyear Legal Seminar Committee, communicated with the Israeli Embassy. An embassy official expressed a desire to facilitate the trip but acknowledged that security protocols are strict and could lead to exclusion or restriction of some VSB members.

In the face of this information, we felt it necessary and appropriate to forego this trip. 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 as to mislabel it as a “boycott.” Although the message was sent over the president’s signature, we jointly drafted and approved what was sent Friday night. Apparently we could have done a better job of explaining the situation and decision. We are writing now to provide further clarity.

Our decision was not based on any political factors or influences. We understand that Israel is in a difficult position when it comes to security. We are not expressing opinions regarding Israel’s border security measures. 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.

You may recall that on March 25, 2015, we sent a message urging VSB members to sign up for both the Israel trip and the Annual Meeting in Virginia Beach. We very much wanted the Israel trip to be a success and were trying to reach the required number of participants for it to be a go. We deeply regret that a combination of circumstances led to the trip’s cancellation, and we also regret that our good faith efforts and decisions may have been misinterpreted and misunderstood.

We remain committed to the core objectives of the VSB:  public protection, access to justice and improvement of the legal profession. Thank you for reading and thank you for allowing us the privilege of serving.

 

Kevin E. Martingayle, President

Edward L. Weiner, President-elect & Chair, Midyear Legal Seminar Committee

The key:

“We were forced to conclude there were potential difficulties some of our VSB members might face in obtaining entry to Israel. Additionally, we were well short of the required number of confirmed attendees necessary for the trip to proceed.”

 

This is simple: next time you engage in a decision that will be perceived as political, identify the legitimate, non-political reason to engage in the behavior (lack of interest), identify it as the main (or only) reason, and engage in the behavior without a lot of discussion.

Speaker Bill Howell stated his opposition to this move by the VSB in a manner, easy for me to support.

From where I am sitting, it still looks as if the VSB received a change.org petition signed by a few dozen people/crazy leftists, (approximately ten of whom identify themselves as Virginia licensed attorneys) and decided to snub Israel based on some minor travel restrictions.  The VSB is still doing better with the media than Kirby Delatuer…

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