Legal Group Threatens Action Against Modern Language Association Over BDS Motion That Counters Academic Organization’s Tax-Exempt Status
December 20, 2016
A Jewish civil rights organization threatened a prominent academic body with legal action on the grounds that an anti-Israel motion it is considering runs counter to the group’s founding principals and tax-exempt status, The Algemeiner has learned.
Lawyers from the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) issued the warning to the president and executive director of the Modern Language Association (MLA) in a recent letter concerning a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution — spearheaded by MLA Members for Justice in Palestine — which is scheduled for a vote at the upcoming MLA 2017 Convention.
The MLA BDS resolution states that the “US materially supports Israel’s ongoing violations of human rights and international law” and “these violations include the systematic denial of academic freedom and educational rights for Palestinian scholars and students.” In addition, according to the motion, faculty and students have the right to “advocate for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, without retaliation.”
The LDB said that the motion “seeks unprecedented action from the MLA that is far beyond the capacity and powers set forth in the MLA’s corporate charter” and is “also inconsistent with the mission and programs that the MLA reports to the IRS.”
The MLA Constitution spells out its mission as follows:
The object of the association shall be to promote study, criticism and research in the more and less commonly taught modern languages and their literatures and to further the common interests of teachers of these subjects.
Passing the motion, LDB said, would constitute an act that is “ultra vires,” or outside the legal framework of the MLA’s principals, making the academic group “subject to injunction [or] liability.”
“It may be maintained that the boycott resolution harms study and research by dividing the membership, and excluding academics along political lines based on ethnic and national associations, thereby undermining the values that the MLA works to advance,” the letter states.
Advancing a boycott against Israel would also “severely limit” academic freedom, LDB said, and “directly discriminate against the MLA’s Israeli members and those who plan to collaborate with them, and harm the interests of thousands of students who seek to study abroad in Israel, or engage in research partnerships with Israeli academics.”
The legal group called on MLA leaders to “table or reject the boycott resolution” which “can only bring further divisiveness” and “lead to irreparable damage” of the organization.
LDB’s warning comes against the backdrop of an ongoing lawsuit the legal group filed against the American Studies Association (ASA) for its passage of a boycott resolution in December 2013.
The lawsuit — which, as The Algemeiner reported in April, was filed on behalf of a group of distinguished ASA members — maintains that as a tax-exempt organization, the ASA’s stated mission of being “devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history” is being violated by the organization’s adoption of a boycott against Israel.
The MLA 2017 Convention is slated to take place between January 5-8 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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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.