Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Dozens of Organizations Commend Virginia State Bar for Decision to Cancel Trip to Israel



April 1, 2015

Virginia State Bar
Mr. Kevin E. Martingayle, President
1111 East Main Street, Suite 700
Richmond, VA 23219-3565

Dear Mr. Martingayle,

We write to commend the Virginia State Bar for its decision to cancel its Midyear Legal Seminar in Jerusalem. By cancelling the planned seminar, the Virginia State Bar has reaffirmed its commitment to the principles of equality enshrined in U.S. law.

In thanking the Virginia State Bar, we agree with the sentiments expressed by Representative Keith Ellison in 2013 when he stated, “American citizens deserve to travel without fear of being turned away based on their race, religion, or countries they have visited.”

Israel’s routine discrimination against U.S. citizens entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory is both well documented and ongoing. In the process of denying entry to U.S. citizens, Israel often subjects them to humiliating searches, intensive interrogations, and invasions of personal privacy, including demanding access to private email accounts.

Those affected by Israel’s policies include
teachers, college students, world-renowned university professors, architects, clergy, interfaith delegations, people visiting sick relatives, married couples giving birth, humanitarian workers, human rights monitors, and descendants of signers of the U.S. constitution. In recent years, Israel’s refusal to end its discrimination against U.S. citizens prevented it from entering the Visa Waiver Program and prompted strong condemnations from lawmakers, the administration, and human rights organizations.

In March of 2014, State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “The Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints.”

In 2013, sixteen Members of Congress wrote to then-Israeli Ambassador Oren, saying, "we are concerned that Israeli border officials are disproportionally singling out, detaining, and denying entry to Arab and Muslim Americans." In their letter, Members of Congress quoted a spokesperson for Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said, “we expect all American citizens to be accorded the rights that any other American citizen would be accorded...there are no second classes.”

As an association that prides itself on diversity and respect for equal rights, members of the Virginia State Bar should reasonably expect to have their civil rights upheld in the course of pursuing professional development opportunities. As you referenced in your cancellation notification, one additional issue with the planned seminar was the insufficient number of individuals who had signed-up to attend. In all likelihood, the low participation rate reflected a justifiable reluctance among practicing attorneys to subject themselves to mistreatment based on their race, religion, or political opinions. Had the gathering occurred as planned, some members of Virginia’s esteemed bar would have undoubtedly suffered discrimination and humiliation at the hands of Israeli border officials and possibly been denied entry outright.

Furthermore, given that membership in the Virginia State Bar is required for all practicing attorneys in the state, it is incumbent upon the association to avoid activities which may inherently discriminate against its members. Indeed, such action is required under the Virginia Human Rights Act and federal statutes governing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, and disability.

Again, we commend the Virginia State Bar for its commitment to upholding the civil rights of its diverse membership. We look forward to the day when everyone living in Israel/Palestine will enjoy equal treatment under the law regardless of race or religion; and all who desire to visit may do so without fear of discrimination or humiliation.

Sincerely,


American Muslims for Palestine
Christian Peacemaker Teams – Palestine
Friends of Sabeel North America
Institute for Policy Studies – New Internationalism Project
Jewish Voice for Peace
Lutherans for Justice in the Holy Land
Methodist Federation for Social Action
National Lawyers Guild – International Committee
Palestine Solidarity Legal Support
Peace Action
United Methodist Kairos Response
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
US Palestinian Community Network


Local and Regional Organizations:
14 Friends of Palestine
Al-Nakba Awareness Project
Bay Area Women in Black
Birmingham Peace Project
Bryn Mawr Peace Coalition
Cape Codders for Peace and Justice
Carolina Peace Resource Center
Citizens for Justice in the Middle East – Kansas City
Coloradans for Justice in Palestine
Committee for Justice in Palestine at The Ohio State University
Committee for Palestinian Rights
Corvallis-Albany Friends of Middle East Peace
Friends of Palestine – Wisconsin
Hilton Head for Peace
Interfaith Council for Peace in the Middle East
Israel-Palestine Task Force, California Nevada Conference, United Methodist Church
Jews Say No, NYC
Jewish Voice for Peace – Bay Area Chapter
Jewish Voice for Peace – Boston Chapter
Jewish Voice for Peace – DC Metro Chapter
Jewish Voice for Peace – St. Louis Chapter
Massachusetts Peace Action
MidEast: Just Peace
Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign
Peace for Palestine – West Boston
St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee
Upper New York United Methodist Task Force on Israel Palestine
Vancouver for Peace