The American Studies Association is under fire for voting by a 2-to-1 margin to join an academic boycott of Israel as a way to protest Israel’s policy toward Palestinians.
The vote has drawn outrage from Israel supporters who note that Israel is the only country the professors’ association has ever decided to single out with a boycott, and has prompted at least one legal scholar to try to challenge the group’s non-profit tax status.
"This vote to boycott Israel, one of the most democratic and academically free nations on the globe, shows the Orwellian anti-Semitism and moral bankruptcy of the American Studies Association," Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, told Reuters. "The Middle East is literally filled with dead from governments' reaction to the convulsions of the ‘Arab Spring,' but the American Studies Association singles out the Jewish state, the one Middle Eastern country that shares American values, for opprobrium?"
The academic group drew further criticism when its president Curtis Marez, in trying to defend the boycott decision, did not dispute that many other nations have worse human rights records than Israel, even its own Middle East neighbors.
“One has to start somewhere,” Marez told The New York Times.
Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine called this reasoning “a minor classic in the annals of terrible justifications.”
“No, one does not have to start somewhere,” Chait wrote. “If you are going to start somewhere, wouldn’t it make sense to start at the top of the list of worst human-rights offenders, rather than at the middle?”
The American Association of University Professors has gone on the record calling all academic boycotts “prima facie violations of academic freedom.”
However, the AAUP, which represents 47,000 members from the nation’s campuses, devoted almost the entire issue of its most recent online journal, the 2013 Journal of Academic Freedom, to the subject of boycotting Israeli universities and professors.
“Is it a coincidence that these academics are singling out the world’s only Jewish-majority country for boycott? Only to those who know nothing of the history of anti-Semitic scapegoating,” columnist Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in Bloomberg. Goldberg also called Marez a “something of a dolt.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas just last week voiced opposition to an overall boycott of Israel. (He does support a boycott of products made in Jewish settlements in the West Bank). “The ASA is more Palestinian, in other words, than the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization,” Goldberg noted.
Tablet Magazine created a chart it titled the “ASA Guide to World Peace” which noted the multitude of human rights violations carried out by China, Iran, Zimbabwe and Russia, none of which have entered the American Studies Association's cross-hairs.
Cornell University law professor William Jacobson who runs the blog Legal Insurrection said he will challenge the academic group’s tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service and has already hired a lawyer to begin investigating.
“I have retained one of the leading practitioners in the field of charitable organizations, Alan P. Dye, Esq., to file a challenge to ASA’s 501(c)(3) status …” Jacobson wrote Sunday. “We expect to file the challenge prior to year end, if not sooner.”
“ASA’s anti-Israel academic boycott resolution calls ASA’s 501(c)(3) status into question for many reasons, including but not limited to the act of engaging in an academic boycott not satisfying the requirements of 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code that an organization must be ‘organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, … or educational purposes …’” Jacobson said.
“An academic boycott, which clearly is a substantial activity of the ASA and will be for the coming years, does not satisfy this test,” he wrote, adding that he also believes the decision “discriminates on the basis of national original and religion.”
The ASA represents academics engaged in the study of American history and culture. According to Reuters, the association has 5,000 members. Despite the controversial nature of the issue, only 1,242 members cast ballots in the online vote. Of those, 66 percent voted in favor of the boycott resolution while 30.5 percent rejected it.
The resolution voted on Sunday night urges American universities to not collaborate with Israeli academic institutions.
Reuters reported that “it carries broad exemptions for individual Israeli scholars working with American counterparts.”