US rights group backs academic boycott of Israel

US rights group backs academic boycott of Israel

In joint statement with Palestinian group, Center for Constitutional Rights says American Studies Association boycott protected under First Amendment

In December 2013, the American Studies Association approved a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (pictured). (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
In December 2013, the American Studies Association approved a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (pictured). (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Tel Aviv-based Israel Law Center (Shurat HaDin) would have no legal basis for a lawsuit against the American Studies Association over its decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions, a US-based constitutional rights groups said.

“Shurat HaDin’s attempt to paint this principled action as anti-Semitic and discriminatory against Israelis is not only legally bankrupt, but also trivializes important struggles against anti-Semitism and all other forms of racism,” the Center for Constitutional Rights said this week in a joint statement with the Palestine Solidarity Legal Support group.

CCR is a constitutional and human rights group founded in 1966, and the PSLS is a legal advocacy group established with the help of CCR to protect the rights of Palestinian human rights activists in the US, according to their respective websites.

On January 10, Shurat HaDin warned the ASA against boycotting Israeli professors and academic institutions, threatening to sue the association if it implemented its “unlawful” boycott resolution.

The Tel Aviv group sent a letter to ASA president-elect Elizabeth Duggan claiming that the ASA’s decision to adopt the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement’s academic boycott of Israel on December 17, 2013, constituted “unlawful racial discrimination on the basis of national origin and race, creed or religion.”

Citing the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and other US state and federal statutes, Shurat HaDin warned Duggan that it would file suit against the ASA in the United States unless it took “immediate steps to cancel the boycott of Israeli institutions and academics.”

In its letter, the organization stated that it represents several Israeli professors. It urged Duggan not to adopt a resolution that was racially discriminatory “under Article 1.1 of the Anti-Racism Convention which was ratified by the United States.”

“It is quite simple, the law in the United States prohibits discrimination on the basis of any protected characteristic, faith, ethnicity, sexuality or disability. The ASA boycott which targets Israelis because they are Israelis and Jews is illegal,” explained Shurat HaDin founder Nitsana Darshan-Leitner.

Earlier last week, William S. Jacobson, the founder of the popular political blog Legal Insurrection, filed with the IRS to have the ASA’s tax-exempt status revoked on the grounds that its boycott of Israel was “not consistent with its educational exempt purpose,” calling the move “a threat to academic freedom.”

PSLS and CCR, however, contend that the ASA’s actions are protected under the First Amendment and accused Shurat HaDin of legal bullying.

“An academic boycott, in fact, violates no anti-discrimination laws because it does not target any individual or institution based on their Jewish identity or Israeli citizenship,” they said in the statement. “Rather, it is aimed at institutions with direct relationships to the Israeli government.”

In December, the association’s national council unanimously passed a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions, justifying its decision with the assertions that Palestinian students and scholars enjoy “no effective or substantive academic freedom” under Israeli rule and that “Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students.”

So far, over 150 colleges have registered their opposition to the ASA boycotts and several universities have withdrawn from the association.

As of January 8, 2013, over 100 college presidents, including those of Harvard, Yale, Brown and Princeton, have gone on record as opposing the ASA boycott and at least five universities, among them Kenyon College and Indiana University, have withdrawn or plan to withdraw as institutional members of the association, joining the growing list of institutions pushing back against the academic body for its recently announced boycott of Israel.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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