Schooling the ASA on boycotting Israel

The American academic group's resolution is not just ignorant and discriminiatory, it's also illegal under U.S. law

Last week, the American Studies Association’s (ASA) national council, unanimously passed a resolution calling for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The ASA, which bills itself as the “oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history,” then took the unusual step of asking its reportedly 5,000 members to cast their own votes on upholding the anti-Israel policy. While the deadline to reject the resolution runs out today, Sunday, December 15, the ASA scholars, which fancy themselves as the leading authorities on all things American, seem to have overlooked one small matter – a boycott resolution of this nature violates international, federal and state law in the United States. They leave the ASA and its membership open to both civil and criminal liability.

It is highly disturbing that an association of professors and academics could believe that a one-sided resolution targeting only the Jewish State would in any way assist in bringing peace to our region. It is sickening that an organization which claims to be liberal and progressive should undertake the types of boycotts that American Jewish groups like the Wiesenthal Center and ADL have labelled as anti-Semitic. Moreover, it is nothing short of ironic that the ASA, which claims it ‘represents divergent opinions,’ would actively choose to exclude such voices. Even more ludicrous is the resolution’s suggestion that Israel’s academia is anything but free to engage, and well versed, in the vocal criticism of government policy – from all sides of the political spectrum. Israel’s centers of higher learning are also key areas in which Jews, Muslims and Christians work and live side by side, united by academic advancements – a fact that begs even greater questions of the desire to silence their voices.

Perhaps most disturbing, however, is that the target of such a boycott would be the academic institutions of Israel – a harrowing echo of the darkest moments of modern history.

Indeed, it is nothing but sad that an organization founded by Dr. Carl Bode, an individual who served his country against the Nazi’s and their allies, should now be pursuing a policy of singling out the Jewish State.

However, all of this emotive and logical reasoning aside, the proposed boycott is not merely unethical but unlawful as well, and those who adopt such a policy are opening themselves to both civil and criminal prosecution.

The ASA scholars would do well to read up on some of the wide-range of anti-boycott legislation of which their proposed resolution and policy would seem to run afoul. Most local jurisdictions in the United States have passed laws that outlaw boycotts such as the ASA’s. As an example, the law in New York, where so many ASA members reside and work, defines boycotts as “unlawful discriminatory practice” and, that any decision to “refuse to buy from, sell to or trade with, or otherwise discriminate against any person, because of…creed…[or ]national origin”, is unlawful and even places secondary actors, aiding the policy, under liability. Even calling for or inciting a boycott against someone because they are Israeli could subject you to criminal prosecution.

The New York State Legislature has decided — correctly — that discriminatory boycotts aimed at a sovereign nation and its nationals are not to be tolerated. Then-Governor Carey, upon signing the legislation that created this anti-boycott framework wrote “that no nation or person is welcome to do business in this state, if that business is accompanied by… bigotry.” How many ASA members are salaried employees of state universities and city owned colleges?

In addition, the Ribicoff Amendment to the Tax Reform Act of 1976 also makes it a federal violation to “participate in or cooperate with an international boycott.” Moreover, anti-boycott legislation under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) specifically protect against the use of boycott – unsanctioned by the United States – in the sale, purchase, or transfer of goods or services (including information) within the United States or between the U.S. and a foreign country. The law was in fact set up specifically to prevent U.S. companies being targeted by the Arab boycott of Israel.

I would also advise the ASA professors to read the International Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Racial Discrimination which the United States ratified on October 21, 1994.

The term used for the boycott in the anti-boycott laws, both domestic and international, is very simple; discrimination, and that is exactly what it is. To deny someone a voice because of their nationality is discrimination, indeed racism. To target only Israeli professors and colleges without considering the racist hate, violence and anti-Semitic incitement that permeates and infests Palestinian academic institutions displays a political illiteracy that should shame these professors.

Shurat HaDin — the Israel Law Center, is a non-governmental organization that brings together a network of lawyers from across the world to prosecute institutions, governments and private companies responsible for abusing the human rights of Jews, Israelis and others.

In the United States this has resulted in the awarding of over a billion dollars by the US courts to the families and victims of terror, with billions of dollars more to be claimed.

Such a boycott and the intended curtailing of the academic freedom of Israelis and others who study in Israeli academic institutions would be high on our list of priorities. Indeed, only recently, in Australia we brought a case under the Racial Discrimination Act against a professor at the University of Sydney who voiced support for boycotting Israel.

The members of the ASA need to school themselves on the legality of their proposed anti-Israel boycott before they further embarrass themselves. The implementation of a boycott of Israel’s academics is as illegal as it is morally repugnant, and we will not hesitate in seeking all legal avenues against those who employ discrimination against the Jewish State in this way.

About the Author
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner is an Israeli civil rights attorney and the founder of the Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, an Israeli based civil rights organization which legally holds to account terrorist organizations and the regimes that support them. They are also dedicated to combating discrimination against Israel through the boycott and 'lawfare' campaigns.