Dan Rivlin, left, CEO of the Kenes Group, a professional congress organizer firm, was prevented from attending and speaking at the International Congress & Convention Association's annual congress in Sarawak, Malaysia, Nov. 13-16, after Malaysian authorities refused to grant him a visa. Rivlin, who holds an Israeli passport and was scheduled to speak on a panel on current events during the event, found out he would be barred entry to the country two weeks ago. M&C contacted Rivlin and he shared the following:
"We [Kenes] are a long-standing member of ICCA… ICCA was coordinating my and a colleague's visa requests for many months. They coordinated with the local host. We were following and promised constantly a reply. Eventually, it came about two weeks prior to the ICCA meeting and it was a rejection with no explanations. The background in our case is the fact that we both are Israeli passport holders, and Malaysia does not officially allow Israelis to enter into Malaysia.
"Usually, when an international association (and we serve many of them) select a destination, the free entry to all is a prerequisite. Unfortunately, this time the Malaysians decided to ignore their pledge (or internally, another agency decided to do so for political reasons). The bottom line is that we were banned from entering Malaysia, and I was forced to change my plans and also cancel all respective meetings at the ICCA conference."
M&C reached out to both ICCA and the Sarawak Convention Bureau for comment. While the CVB did not respond, ICCA CEO Martin Sirk said, "We are actively trying to obtain information from the Malaysian side that will enable the board to issue a clear position statement about this particular incident that takes all the facts into account." He also forwarded a release from the organization regarding the incident, as follows:
Our first priority over the last week has been the successful organization of the ICCA Congress in Kuching, Sarawak, which required the full support and undivided attention of our Malaysian local hosts.
The board discussed this issue prior to the Congress, and unanimously agreed that this is a serious matter of principle and policy, and as such, it requires that we should be absolutely certain about all the facts before we formally communicate our position regarding this specific visa situation.
At the General Assembly, the following statements were therefore made to the ICCA members during the Presidential Report:
"The ICCA board of directors reaffirmed the association's commitment to the principles of freedom of movement, freedom of association and freedom of expression."
"The ICCA board of directors reaffirmed the association's policy that we should select future Congresses based on the rights of all ICCA members to be able to attend."
The president expressed similar positions in the "President's Choice" plenary session during the main education programme.
Regarding the refusal of the two Israeli visas to our Congress, the ICCA board unanimously considered that we do not yet have input from all sides about what happened and why, and that we require this before we can issue an official statement. The ICCA CEO is proactively seeking clarification.