The uproar over the Virginia State Bar’s decision to cancel its seminar in Israel due to allegedly discriminatory border patrol practices shows no signs of subsiding.
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and the Zionist Organization of America have filed Freedom of Information Act requests following the state bar’s email informing members that the planned November study seminar in Jerusalem would not take place. The organizations are demanding access to all documents, records and emails related to the state bar’s action.
Eric Rozenman, Washington director of CAMERA, said in a telephone interview that the state bar was required to respond within five working days of the organizations’ March 30 request, but due to the volume of materials requested, the agency granted itself an automatic seven-day extension by state law. He said a representative from the state bar told him it was “working feverishly to review the materials” and was expected to release the materials April 14.
Jewish organizations have questioned whether the state bar’s decision, relayed to lawyers in a March 27 email, was influenced by an online petition with 39 signatures claiming that “it is without question that Israel employs discriminatory entry and exit policies for U.S. citizens, particularly against visiting Arab- and Muslim-Americans.”
In criticizing the state bar’s decision, Rozenman cited an updated report from Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority. It said that during the past six years there has been a sharp increase in Muslim tourists from Islamic and Arab countries. Since 2009, more than 250,000 Muslim and Arab tourists have visited Israel and at least 10,000 visitors from Muslim countries have entered Israel the first two months of this year with many coming to Jerusalem, according to reports in Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth.
CAMERA released a statement calling the cancellation “an act of anti-Israel discrimination thinly disguised as resistance to unfair discrimination.”
“Thousands and thousands of people travel to Israel every year, including Arabs and Muslims, without any problem,” said Susan B. Tuchman, director of Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice. “Stringent security measures are an unfortunate and sometimes inconvenient necessity in Israel, as they are here…. That’s not discrimination.”
In addition to issuing a statement condemning the decision to cancel the Midyear Legal Seminar, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington asked licensed attorneys in Virginia to sign on to a letter to members of the state bar’s executive committee encouraging the committee to reinstate the Israel trip. The statement also asks Virginia-based lawyers who are interested in attending the Jerusalem seminar to call Karen Gould, executive director and chief operating officer of the Virginia State Bar.
“We can’t allow an institution to simply say, ‘We canceled a trip because Israel is racist and Israel is discriminatory,’ and that’s it,” said JCRC Executive Director Ron Halber. “They have to apologize, retract and they must reorganize a mission to Israel. That’s the only way they are going to be able to make up for it… They have to do their best to undo the damage that they have done.”