News of the Virginia State Bar’s cancellation of a trip to Israel for its Midyear Legal Seminar quickly spread through social media on Saturday, a decision that appeared to come as a surprise to many within that very group who had received the news through an email.
On Sunday Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell sent a letter to Kevin Martingayle, president of the Virginia State Bar (see text of letter here):
Dear Mr. Martingayle:
I was surprised to receive your e-mail Saturday regarding the cancellation of the State Bar’s upcoming trip to Israel for the Midyear Legal Seminar. 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.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has a strong and longstanding relationship with the State of Israel and its people that has been formalized as the policy of the Commonwealth on several different occasions. In 1986 Governor Gerald Baliles created the Virginia Israel Commission. In 1996 the General Assembly created the Virginia Israel Advisory Board to further the economic and cultural links between the Commonwealth and Israel. In 2008 Governor Tim Kaine signed a memoranda of understanding with Israel. Most recently, the General Assembly adopted a resolution in support of Israel, renewing the Commonwealth’s longstanding commitment to our ally.
We also share deep cultural and economic ties with Israel. There are over 95,000 Jewish people living in the Commonwealth. Virginia sent over $75 million in exports to Israel in 2014. The Virginia Israel Advisory Board works tirelessly to further these ties.
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. 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.
I strongly urge the Bar to reconsider this decision.
William J. Howell