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Law Prof. Files Complaint With IRS After Tax-Exempt Education Group Announces Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions


"The Association has appointed itself as a kind of inept volunteer fire department, aiming to put out the Israeli-Palestinian conflagration by throwing gasoline on the fire."

A Cornell University law professor and author of the blog Legal Insurrection has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against the American Studies Association over its decision last month to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

Professor William A. Jacobson announced on his blog that his attorneys filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS on Monday which challenges the ASA’s tax exempt status “in light of the academic boycott.”

Jacobson contends that the professors’ group “no longer is organized and operating exclusively in accordance with its educational exempt purpose, and no longer is entitled to its 501(c)(3) status under the IRS Code and Regulations.”

As TheBlaze reported last month, the ASA voted by a 2-to-1 margin to join an academic boycott of Israel, saying it was protesting Israel’s policy toward Palestinians.

The vote drew outrage from Israel supporters who noted that Israel is the only country the professors’ association had ever decided to single out with a boycott. World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder characterized the decision as “Orwellian anti-Semitism,” because the group chose to criticize Israel when “the Middle East is literally filled with dead from governments’ reaction to the convulsions of the ‘Arab Spring.’”

Jacobson wrote that after the vote he “wondered how the ASA National Council could do such a thing not just on the merits, but because the boycott put ASA’s tax-exempt status at risk.”

“The ASA membership approved the boycott Resolution with less than a quarter of the total membership voting for it (there was such low turnout, that was enough),” he wrote.

Jacobson pointed out that so far 125 universities and academic organizations have rejected the boycott and have issued statements as to why boycotts contradict the spirit of higher education, including particularly caustic criticism from president of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

“The Association has appointed itself as a kind of inept volunteer fire department, aiming to put out the Israeli-Palestinian conflagration by throwing gasoline on the fire. That’s not exactly right. It has decided to pour gas not on the source of the fire but on bystanders, some of whom are trying to extinguish the flames,” Catholic University President John Garvey wrote in a statement, calling the boycott decision “lamentable.”

“I hope the ASA’s call for a boycott produces just the opposite of its intended result – a proliferation of U.S. linkages with Israeli universities and other universities in the Middle East,” Garvey added.

To counter the widespread criticism of its decision, the ASA has posted on its website quotes from its members endorsing the boycott.

Jacobson’s complaint to the IRS asserts that the ASA “has committed itself to the full scope of the international academic boycott” which is inconsistent with the educational purpose for which it received its tax exempt status.

The complaint suggested that the boycott itself is the problem, not the stance specifically against Israel.

“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 legal filing said, asserting that the boycott severs “the free exchange of ideas and interactions among scholars and institutions so critical to higher education.”

“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,” the complaint added.

Jacobson further contends that the boycott violates federal and state laws against international boycotts that single out Israel.

American Studies Association President Curtis Marez in an earlier open letter to members wrote that “boycotts called to end human rights violations are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

“In our view, the academic boycott doesn’t violate academic freedom but helps to extend it,” the ASA said on its website.

The complaint can be seen here on the blog Legal Insurrection.


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