Va. State Bar defends decision to cancel trip to Israel

September 23, 2023 | (Kelley Vlahos)

WASHINGTON — The Virginia Bar is looking to clear the air after cancelling a trip for its members to Israel. While some are applauding the decision, others wonder if it’s politically motivated.

Kevin Martingayle, president of the Virginia State Bar, says security was a concern when Israel was chosen as the destination for the annual members’ legal summit. But they concluded it was safe.

However, the trip was canceled after it was determined in conversations with the State Department and Israeli Embassy that not every member of the bar would be allowed entry, Martingayle said. He did not elaborate on why, but said simply that every member would go, or none of them would go.

Still, the move has raised questions of whether the legal group  is “boycotting” the Middle Eastern country over political sentiments more than anything else.

“We are not anti-Israel,” Martingayle says. “We’re not telling people not to visit Israel. We’re just saying as a public agency, we have to make sure we have maximum inclusivity.”

The move highlights anti- Arab discrimination in Israeli policy, says Ibrahim Hooper, with the Council on American Islamic Relations. Cancelling the trip over warnings that some of its Virginia bar members would be rejected is, “a recognition finally that Israeli discriminatory policies should be acknowledged and challenged.”

In a letter sent Sunday, Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell told Martingayle that he was “surprised” by the cancellation. “I write to you both as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia State Bar to express my deep disappointment in this decision and strongly urge you to reconsider,” Howell wrote.

“The State Bar’s decision to cancel this upcoming trip is inconsistent with the policy of the Commonwealth and sends the wrong signal about our relationship with Israel,” the letter said. “I feel that it is very important that every agency of the Commonwealth take steps to demonstrate our commitment to Israel and its people. This decision does the opposite.”

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Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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