Virginia State Bar: Change the Location of 2015 Midyear Legal Seminar

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We, the undersigned members of the Virginia State Bar (“VSB”), are writing to express our deep concern with the discriminatory nature of the 2015 Midyear Legal Seminar.  On February 27, 2015, it was announced that this year’s Seminar is scheduled to take place in Israel on November 8-15, 2015.

As members of the VSB, we have taken an oath to uphold our profession’s highest ideals. At the core of these ideals is the belief that no person or group should be subjected to differential treatment on the basis of their immutable characteristics.

The location of this year’s Seminar, however, strikes at the heart of our profession’s ideals.  In particular, by holding this year’s Seminar in Israel, the VSB accepts discriminatory practices and policies against Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian members of the VSB on the basis of their race, religion, and national origin, effectively preventing these members from attending.

It is without question that Israel employs discriminatory entry and exit policies for U.S. citizens, particularly against visiting Arab- and Muslim-Americans. Notably, the committee responsible for organizing this year’s Seminar was or should have been aware of these discriminatory practices and policies when citing to the State Department’s travel warnings to Israel in the Midyear Legal Seminar brochure.  For example, in its Country Information for Israel, the State Department warns:

“U.S. citizen visitors have been subjected to prolonged questioning and physical searches and have been denied access to consular officers, lawyers, and family members… U.S. citizens whom Israeli authorities suspect of being of Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin may face additional questioning by immigration and border authorities” (emphasis added).

The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem cautions:

Those whom Israeli authorities suspect of being of Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin… may face additional, often time-consuming, and probing questioning by immigration and border authorities, or may even be denied entry into Israel or the West Bank” (emphasis added).

In addition to inappropriate questioning and denial of entry, U.S. citizens of Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian background are regularly subjected to the following treatment by Israeli authorities upon arrival:

  • Prolonged detention (lasting up to 26 hours in at least one documented case);
  • Invasive body searches;
  • Lengthy and hostile interrogations;
  • Searches of email, mobile phone contents, and social media accounts (which may raise attorney-client privilege concerns); and
  • Confiscation of personal property, including laptops, cameras, and phones.

Furthermore, any person deemed by Israel to be a Palestinian national (including those with U.S. citizenship) is outright refused entry into Israel.  Thus, members of the Bar deemed to be Palestinian nationals are inexcusably banned from the 2015 Midyear Legal Seminar.

It is because of this ongoing discrimination against Americans of Arab or Muslim heritage that the U.S. has denied Israel entry into its Visa Waiver Program.  In March of 2014, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki explained in her daily briefing, “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, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program” (emphasis added).

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.

For at least these reasons, we demand that the location of this year’s Midyear Legal Seminar be changed to a location accessible to all members, irrespective of race, religion, and national origin.  Furthermore, we demand that the VSB refrain from organizing any more events for which participation is exclusive on racial, religious, or national origin grounds.

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