Lawyers Challenge ASA Non-Profit Tax Exempt Status After Israel Boycott
by Joshua Levitt
A group of lawyers led by William A. Jacobson, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Securities Law Clinic, at Cornell University Law School, have challenged the American Studies Association’s non-profit 501(c)(3) tax exemption charter in a whistleblower complaint to the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. tax authority.
Last month, the ASA membership voted to endorse an academic boycott of Israel, which has since been rejected by some 125 major universities, though, not necessarily by individual departments or professors at those schools.
At the time, Jacobson, also the author of the Legal Insurrection blog said he, with the help of tax lawyer expert Alan P. Dye, Esq., a partner at Webster, Chamberlain & Bean, LLP, would challenge the ASA’s status because of the vote.
Jacobson told The Algemeiner that the procedure has worked in the past, most notably in the 1983 case of Bob Jones University v. United States, though it took a decade to work its way through the IRS, courts, and the Supreme Court.
The introduction to the brief explains why the ASA should lose its tax-free status:
“ASA’s academic boycott is not consistent with its educational exempt purpose. ASA’s academic boycott is anti-educational, seeking to sever the free exchange of ideas and interactions among scholars and institutions so critical to higher education.
“ASA’s academic boycott is deemed such a threat to academic freedom and the educational process that major non-partisan organizations representing virtually every higher educational institution and almost 50,000 university professors have denounced the academic boycott. Over 100 individual university presidents have done the same, and the number is growing.
“These denunciations have been without regard to where one stands on the Middle East dispute, and are grounded in the threat academic boycotts present to education, not Middle East politics. ASA’s exempt purpose would be violated even if ASA took the other side of the political issue, and boycotted Arab universities and scholars…
“The issue here is very specific to an exempt “educational” organization engaging in an academic boycott.
“This particular ASA academic boycott is even worse, because in addition to being anti-educational, it is based explicitly on national origin in violation of the public policy against such discrimination. In addition, the international boycott of which ASA now is a part traces its roots directly to the anti-Semitic Durban NGO conference in 2001 and the anti-Jewish sentiment of the Palestinian boycott movement.”
Last month, the ASA said 66.05% voted in favor of the boycott, 30.5% voted against and 3.43% abstained. While the ASA said the vote signified the largest turnout in its association history, at only about 25% of its 5,000 members, it would mean that only 16% actually voted in favor of the resolution.