It’s been a rough year for the American Studies Association (“ASA”), legally speaking.
Earlier this week, a lawsuit was filed in New York State Court against the New York Metro chapter of the ASA, alleging “unlawful discrimination under the New York City and State Human Rights Laws,” in relation to the ASA’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
In 2013, the ASA issued a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The complaint was filed by New York attorney David Abrams, on behalf of plaintiff, Athenaeum Blue & White (“Athaneum”), a not-for-profit Israeli education organization with a principle place of business in New York. The complaint alleges that the plaintiff is barred from joining the ASA as an institutional member based on its Israeli national origin. Athaneum, according to the complaint, “is an organization which would [be] eligible for membership in the [ASA] but for their anti-Israel boycott.” The ASA is hence violating the New York City and State Human Rights Laws, as it is discriminating against the Plaintiff on the grounds of national origin.
This is the second lawsuit filed against the ASA in a matter of months.
In April, the Brandeis Center, along with prominent litigators at Marcus & Auerbach and Barnes & Thornburg, filed suit against the ASA for its unlawful boycott of Israel, on behalf of four distinguished American Studies professors.
The Brandeis Center’s clients, well-known academics in the field of American Studies, filed suit “to restore the ASA to its stated mission.” The professors wrote about how, over the past few years, the ASA “has been diverted from its scholarly mission —promoting the study of American culture—to a political one, by leaders seeking to turn the ASA into an organization that advocates for social change far beyond American borders, and with an unwavering focus on delegitimizing Israel.”
As LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus explained in Newsweek, “At the time the boycott was initiated, ASA’s constitution clearly stated that ‘[t]he 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.’ According to the American Studies professors, for 60 years, ASA has been an association focused on American Studies. It is not a social justice organization, nor is it a foreign policy organization. Indeed, according to the professors, boycotting a foreign nation has absolutely nothing to do with ASA’s mission and is therefore illegal.”
Although the Brandeis Center’s lawsuit is still in the early phases, it has already been credited in part with the dramatic defeat of a resolution calling for the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to boycott Israeli academic institutions, suggesting that the case will have a profound impact in future BDS decisions.
As demonstrated by these two recent lawsuits against the ASA, significant potential legal options aside from legislation that can be utilized to combat BDS, and unlawfully boycotting Israel can lead to repercussions.
Charles A. Small Dr. Charles Asher Small is the Director of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), and the Koret Distinguished Scholar, Stanford University, Hoover Institution. He was the founding Director of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA); and lectured on the Ethics, Politics and Economic Program, Political Science Department, Yale University.