posters calling to boycott Israel
posters calling to boycott Israel Flash 90

Shurat HaDin - Israel Law Center, a Tel-Aviv based civil rights organization which has pioneered the use of legal actions against anti-Jewish and anti-Israel individuals and organizations in courtrooms around the world, on Thursday put the American Studies Association (ASA) on notice in the wake of its decision to adopt a resolution promoting an academic boycott of Israel.

In a statement, Shurat HaDin noted that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement’s academic boycott and the ASA’s December 17, 2013 resolution adopting it, represent unlawful racial discrimination on the basis of national origin and race, creed or religion as described under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (“Anti-Racism Convention”) and numerous other state and federal statutes in the United States.

“While anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli individuals and organizations around the world seek to harm Israel and its people using warfare, terrorism, and other illegal or deceitful tactics, Shurat HaDin believes in using existing laws to attain its objectives,” said the organization.

The organization has written a letter to  ASA president-elect Elizabeth Duggan, notifying  her it represents several Israeli professors and warning of their intention to file suit against the ASA in the United States courts, should it not take all immediate steps to cancel the boycott of Israeli institutions and academics.

In justifying its decision to boycott Israel, the ASA said the boycott was “in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom, and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.”

The letter, signed by New York attorney Robert Tolchin and Shurat HaDin director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner,  notes that the BDS movement, by its very definition, seeks to make distinctions between, impose restrictions on and impose adverse preferences based on the Israeli national origin of goods, services, persons and organizations.

The movement also in effect makes a distinction between, imposes restrictions on and imposes adverse preference based Jewish racial and ethnic origin and the Israeli ethnic origin, notes the letter.

“While past cultural boycotts of Israel organized by the BDS movement have consisted of attempts to deprive the Israeli public of overseas performers planning to tour Israel by harassing them upon the announcement of concert dates and conversely, of Israeli cultural groups which tour other countries, academic boycotts attempt to sever ties between Israeli universities and local universities or prevent Israeli academics from lecturing,” said Shurat HaDin.

“Not only does this damage the local institution as much, if not more than the Israeli one, but it delivers no political message other than anti-Semitism,” it added.

“The December 2013 resolution by the ASA - adopted by only a portion of its membership - is the culmination of a long history of the resolution being circulated several times in the past few years - first in 2006, in response to the Second Lebanon War and then again in 2009, in the wake of Israel's Operation Cast Lead,” said Shurat HaDin.

Darshan-Leitner said, “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.”

“We commend those professors and academic institutions who have distanced themselves from this blinkered and hateful boycott, and we want to support their efforts by seeking legal clarification that the boycott amounts to unlawful discrimination based upon national origin.  One can only imagine the uproar if the boycott’s wording had the word gay, black or blind instead of Israel,” she added.

“Elizabeth Duggan and the ASA are now on notice; if they do not take all necessary steps to cancel the boycott of Israeli institutions and academics and if the organization, its membership, chapters and affiliates take any additional steps to engage in or implement any conduct of boycott against Israeli institutions or academics, they may find themselves with a lawsuit brought forth by Israeli professors,” said Darshan-Leitner.

In the weeks since the boycott was declared, at least four universities have already quit the ASA in protest. So far, no universities have actually come out in support of the boycott.

Top schools including Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Princeton, Boston University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Connecticut and University of Texas, among others, have already slammed the boycott.

The head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has expressed opposition to the academic boycott, saying, "The concept of an academic boycott is antithetical to MIT values. It fundamentally violates the principles of academic freedom that are central to the excellence of MIT and American higher education.”

Shurat HaDin has had past successes in foiling attempts to boycott Israel. The organization has also been involved in a number of court actions ranging from a lawsuit against the government of North Korea, stopping the Gaza flotilla,  and forcing the trial of Hamas terrorists for their role in suicide bombings.

It recently sued a professor at Sydney University in Australia who engaged in an anti-Israel boycott of this nature.