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April 20, 2016 12:55 pm

Professors Sue American Studies Association for Boycott of Israel

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A BDS protest. ASA is suing their own academic association for its boycott of Israel. Photo: Mohamed Ouda via Wikimedia Commons.

A BDS protest. ASA is suing their own academic association for its boycott of Israel. Photo: Mohamed Ouda via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – Several members of the American Studies Association (ASA) announced Wednesday that they are suing their own academic association for its boycott of Israel, arguing that the boycott violates a District of Columbia (DC) law that applies to non-profit organizations.

“Until a handful of zealots appropriated our learned society, the ASA was the leading organization for the study of American culture,” said one of the plaintiffs, Professor Simon Bronner. “Yet in 2013, a handful of anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists aggressively steered the ASA to an organization of social change pushing a narrow political agenda.”

The membership of the ASA, the oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history, in 2013 voted to endorse the ASA’s participation in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The vote had attracted the largest number of participants in the 5,000-member organization’s history. More than 66 percent of voters endorsed the boycott resolution, while 31 percent opposed it.

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The lawsuit’s plaintiffs say that at the time of the boycott, the ASA’s constitution stated that “the object of the association [is] the promotion of the study of American culture through the encouragement of research, teaching, publication…about American culture in all its diversity and complexity.” Therefore, the boycott of Israel was outside the scope of the constitution and antithetical to the association’s stated goal of promoting knowledge, the plaintiffs argue.

The ASA’s constitution also states that the association’s goal is “the strengthening of relations among persons and institutions in this country and abroad devoted to such studies,” which the plaintiffs say is also the exact opposite of what the boycott of Israel aims to achieve.

Further, as a tax-exempt non-profit, the ASA reports documents annually to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In those IRS documents, the ASA describes its mission as “the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history,” with the specific purpose of “advancing the study of American culture.”

Prof. Bronner is joined in the lawsuit by three other plaintiffs: Professors Michael Rockland, Michael Barton, and Charles Kupfer. The four plaintiffs say they have unsuccessfully tried to address the issue of the Israel boycott directly with the ASA numerous times since 2013, and chose to now sue the association as a last resort.

“This appears to be a clear example of a small group misappropriating assets raised for an agreed-upon purpose and illegally using the organization to advance a completely separate and personal agenda,” said University of California, Berkeley Law School Professor Steven Davidoff Solomon, a corporate law expert who advised the litigation group representing the plaintiffs.

Northwestern University Pritzker Law School Professor Eugene Kontorovich, a legal expert who also advised the litigation group, added that “to be clear, this is not about silencing or stopping criticism of Israel, or in any way discouraging it. It is about non-profit corporations abiding by their own rules.”

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  • Sheldon Wolf

    The ASA isn’t really about freedom of expression. The ASA is driven by anti-Semitism disguised as political expression. In reality, the ASA is nothing more than a disgrace to the core values of academic expression and the free exchange of ideas. Whatever it takes to shut the ASA down is more than worth the effort. I hope all non-profits, including the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches who ironically also boycott Israel, take a hint from this action! They’re next!

    P.S. Maybe the Presbyterians and Methodists should build a church in Gaza and see how well that goes over. Just don’t be surprised if Hamas uses the building to fire rockets at Israel.

  • Boycott the asa until they squeeze out these anti Israel vermin

    Boycott the asa until they squeeze out these anti Israel vermin

  • Daniel Wencel

    Great. This is a disgraceful hijacking of a noble academic organization for some nefarious antisemitic purpose. This kind of BDS bullying must be stopped.

  • Jack

    The illegal use of assets belonging to others for any purpose is fraud.
    While the ASA has the right to a political opinion, it has no right to use any assets garnered from its membership.
    In short the right to a political statement is allowed under First Amendment protections, but the use of assets of the ASA to support or promote the position IS FRAUD against the ASA membership, even if a majority vote in support of the position.

  • wow no more freedom

    • Free Speech

      My tax money need not pay for your hate speech.

  • USA Assotiation should not B allowed America is given-up to islam bigot bds ” no more democraty WEAK USA” about time to have a strong leader.

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