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May 1, 2015 10:22 am

BDS Movement Infiltrates the Virginia State Bar

avatar by Ben Cohen /

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BDS supporters. Photo: Mohamed Ouda via Wikimedia Commons. For just more than a month now, the Virginia State Bar (VSB)—which, it should be noted, is a state body working with the legal profession in Virginia—has been embroiled in a nasty political row over its apparent boycott of Israel. I say “apparent” because this hasn’t been the kind of run-of-the-mill boycott row one encounters on college campuses. Leading officials of the VSB are insisting that they are not boycotting Israel and that, moreover, they were not even aware of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement until this whole unfortunate business began.

Take it from me, this is a complicated story, so let’s begin with a chronology. On Feb. 27, the VSB announced that it would be holding its 42nd Annual Midyear Legal Seminar, scheduled for November, in the refined surroundings of the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem. Anti-Israel activists quickly learned of the planned trip to the Jewish state, and by March 23, a petition was live demanding its cancellation.

Signed by exactly 39 of the VSB’s almost 50,000 members, the petition was careful to sound like a statement of concerned professionals. Unlike the unhinged screeds one encounters on campus, it didn’t contain any references to Israeli “war crimes” or “apartheid,” nor did it even mention the BDS campaign. Without pointing out that Israel is a Jewish state—as is common among anti-Zionists—the petition grounded its demand for cancellation on the claim that Israel discriminates against those of Muslim, Palestinian, and Arab origin at its border entry points. Citing advice from the U.S. State Department and the American Consulate in Jerusalem, the petition concluded, “It is unacceptable that the Virginia State Bar has decided to hold a conference in a location that actively discriminates on the basis of racial, religious, and national origin grounds, and effectively prevents Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian members of the VSB from attending.”

I will deal with the substance of these claims further on, but for now it’s important to record what happened next. On March 27, the petition was sent to the VSB’s council members. By late afternoon on the same day, VSB members were receiving emails from the state agency’s president, Kevin Martingayle, announcing that the Jerusalem trip had been scrapped.

“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,” Martingayle wrote. “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.”

Inevitably, Martingayle’s email—sent on a Friday night, traditionally regarded as a good time to dump problematic news down a black hole—met with a furious response, much of it coming from VSB members appalled that the organization’s president could so easily fall for these astonishing accusations without doing his due diligence.

“I feel that it is very important that every agency of the Commonwealth take steps to demonstrate our commitment to Israel and its people,” William J. Howell, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, told Martingayle in one of many letters of protest. “This decision does the opposite.”

Authoritative legal blogs, like the Volokh Conspiracy and Legal Insurrection, began pushing the story. Various local and national Jewish organizations condemned the decision and the story started to creep into the national press—a reminder, perhaps, that releasing bad news just as the weekend kicks in doesn’t guarantee that no-one will notice.

Aware of the escalating scandal, Martingayle on March 29 sent out a second email to VSB members. While he reiterated his earlier point that the seminar had been cancelled based on a “U.S. State Department advisory,” he introduced another reason into mix. “We were well short of the required number of confirmed attendees necessary for the trip to proceed,” Martingayle said. This, however, doesn’t explain why the VSB had sent an email four days earlier encouraging sign-up, and nor does it account for the fact that the trip, costed at a full $7,000 per head, had only been announced one month previously.

Martingayle then added that he and VSB President-elect Edward Weiner had been in touch with the Israeli Embassy over security protocols. According to Legal Insurrection, this contact seems to have consisted to a single phone call asking whether entrance into Israel was guaranteed for VSB members. Of course, without a list of the travelers available, the Israeli representative wasn’t in a position to say yes or no!

Much as Martingayle might wish that this issue would disappear, the reverse is happening, and more layers of complexity keep appearing. For example, it now transpires that Donald W. Lemons, the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, participated in a conference call with the VSB leadership just hours before the cancellation was made public. Yet beneath all this intrigue, a basic question remains: Has the VSB signed up to the boycott of Israel or not?

Sadly, the VSB leadership has refused to engage with outsiders, including representatives of the local Jewish community. Robin Mancoll, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Virginia’s Tidewater region, told me that the VSB still hasn’t responded to a request for an apology that, she added, needed to acknowledge that “the VSB leadership has no reason to believe that any VSB member would be denied admission to Israel for any improper reason, because Israel does not discriminate.”

Mancoll said, “We hope that VSB will take us up on our offer to work closely with us, in partnership with other pro-Israel communities around the state, to offer an educational program within the next twelve months targeted at informing VSB membership on the nefarious nature and dangers of the BDS movement.”

I hope they will too, because then the VSB will learn two things. Firstly, Legal Insurrection‘s Professor William Jacobson has rightly talked about the “infiltration” of the BDS movement into the VSB case. At least 40 pro-BDS groups, all of them committed to the elimination of Israel as a sovereign Jewish and democratic state, loudly praised the VSB’s decision. Additionally, one of the organizers of the petition, VSB member Ashraf Nubani, has represented Hamas terrorist leaders as well as a charity with links to al-Qaeda. So what Martingayle and his colleagues need to understand is that, at minimum, the VSB has been co-opted by a virulently anti-Zionist political agenda.

Secondly, they will learn that Israel is a normal country with heightened security concerns that impact its entry and exit policies. Whatever half-truths the VSB petitioners may have concocted, there is no law mandating Israeli border officials to scrutinize or bar Muslims and Arabs more than anyone else. Indeed, 250,000 Muslim and Arab visitors from countries with no relations with Israel have visited the Jewish state since 2009. Additionally, both Israelis and Americans know from bitter experience that terrorist outrages are often committed by those entering the country as tourists. Why then,Martingayle should ask himself, are Israel’s security precautions equivalent to discrimination?

This whole unfortunate episode can, I am sure, be resolved through dialogue. Over to you, Mr. Martingayle.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of The Tower, writes a weekly column for His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).

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  • Yale

    Maybe they should make a point of holding these confabs in Williamsburg where the aura of the Founders may lead them to wisdom.

  • “there are some unacceptable discriminatory policies and practices pertaining to border security ” well, talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Even before Homeland Security, many foreign nationals were discriminated against if they wanted to visit the USA, and the sort of impertinent and irrelevant questioning they were subjected to by the immigration officials sometimes exceeded all bounds! Even now, before visiting the USA one has to complete this ESTA form. In a recent case, a whole family of Brits were denied entry into the USA because some American immigration idiot had stamped their passport with the date written the British way, so the American assumed that on a previous trip they had overstayed by six months. No proper investigation was made until the BBC got involved and finally worked out what had happened. What about the silly questions on the green form asking whether you have ever been found guilty of a war crime? Everyone is tempted to write “yes” but they know the consequences. I am tempted to write “if I had been a Nazi war criminals I’d be long dead by now, I’d have to be in my late nineties at the very earliest”!

    • Yale

      Ms. Bacon appears unable to differentiate between bureaucratic stupidity, which is a fact of life in the modern world and deliberately discriminatory policies.

    • Tabitha Korol

      The writer, Josephine, makes light of some very serious issues. it is not discrimination to weed out those who came to kill. It is not intolerance to be tolerant of intolerance. Every sovereign nation must protect its citizens, and we live in an era where Islam is trying to carry out its 1400-year jihad against the world and establish a caliphate. Angola is destroying mosques. Norway is casting out Muslim terrorists/thugs. Netherlands is enacting new laws for security. How would you feel about protecting your home? Would you not find out who is attempting to enter before opening your door, particularly if history revealed that you were in danger? And by the way, a Nazi war criminal was in the news just last week. Sweden is witnessing rape of their women and Jews leaving the country in fear. The time is now to awaken, and learn.

  • steven L

    This shows that the enemies of Israel will take advantage of people ignorance to push their bigoted and fanatical/genocidal agenda; to no avail. Reason will prevail over fanaticism, genocidal and Islamist “racism”.

  • Jack

    I guess the 39 ‘professionals’ that dignify the petition think that a state’s security is a matter of debate by those trying to subvert said security.
    It is the sovereign right of independent law abiding states to have border checks.
    Nobody in the world could describe the conduct of the Palestinians in Gaza ‘law abiding’ in the international order.
    They, (the PA), have taken a stance of ‘declared war’.
    Another failed attempt by the rule of the mosque to subvert reality and dupe the innocent.
    Just like ISIS they will rape and kill your children and wives if given the chance.
    Some day ordinary Palestinians may lose the will to live with the boot heel of Hamas on their necks, (sigh, soon I hope), but until then reactionary political elements are all the vogue in Gaza And West Bank.

    • Margo

      For those who dont know, northern Virginia — the Washington suburbs — is a hotbed of Islamic activity in the US. Most Muslims in the area are in professional families, and it is hard to imagine that there aren’t 39 Muslim lawyers in the area.

      What this is really about is Muslim lawyers polticizing a state agency and seeking to turn it ino a weapon in the Islamic war against Israel.

  • Fred

    Love these highly professional idiots.

  • obama(closet muslim as shown by his kowtowing to so called arab royalty-the first US president to do so and also world wide) created a recruitment of muslims terrorist into leading administrative positions.Therefore the USA has become an islamic lover and a Jewish-Christian hater!God help Americans!

  • Leo Toystory

    Muslims ought not to be allowed to practice law in the United States as their real goal is to replace our laws with sharia. Every time one of them is sworn in and pledges to uphold the laws of their state they are lying.

  • Paul

    This is no great surprise for residents of Virginia who are active in our state. For several years now the state legislature has pursued policies seemingly aimed at keeping our residents unhealthy and uneducated. It must be succeeding if the legal profession can be so easily manipulated.