Several members of the American Studies Association (ASA) announced on Wednesday that they would be suing the association for its boycott of Israel.
In 2013, the ASA promoted an academic boycott of Israel, saying it was “in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom, and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.”
The professors who are suing the ASA are arguing that the boycott violates a District of Columbia (DC) law that applies to non-profit organizations, JNS.org reported.
“Until a handful of zealots appropriated our learned society, the ASA was the leading organization for the study of American culture,” said one of the plaintiffs, Professor Simon Bronner. “Yet in 2013, a handful of anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists aggressively steered the ASA to an organization of social change pushing a narrow political agenda.”
“Academic associations should think twice before abusing their missions and betraying the lawful purposes for which they were established in favor of the personal political agendas of their noisiest and most politicized activist members,” said Kenneth L. Marcus, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) and one of the attorneys on the case, according to JNS.org.
The plaintiffs say that at the time of the boycott, the ASA’s constitution stated that “the object of the association [is] the promotion of the study of American culture through the encouragement of research, teaching, publication…about American culture in all its diversity and complexity.” Therefore, the boycott of Israel was outside the scope of the constitution and antithetical to the association's stated goal of promoting knowledge, they argue.
The plaintiffs also note that the ASA’s constitution states that the association's goal is “the strengthening of relations among persons and institutions in this country and abroad devoted to such studies,” which they say is also the exact opposite of what the boycott of Israel aims to achieve.
Further, as a tax-exempt non-profit, the ASA reports documents annually to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In those IRS documents, the ASA describes its mission as “the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history,” with the specific purpose of “advancing the study of American culture.”
Prof. Bronner is joined in the lawsuit by Professors Michael Rockland, Michael Barton, and Charles Kupfer, according to JNS.org. The four say they have unsuccessfully tried to address the issue of the Israel boycott directly with the ASA numerous times since 2013, and chose to now sue the association as a last resort.