A group of professors is suing the American Studies Association over its academic boycott of Israel.
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The lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court in the District of Columbia charges the ASA with violating the District of Columbia law governing tax-exempt nonprofit organizations.
The four plaintiffs, who are longtime members of the association, also charge that the boycott violates the group’s internal rules. They are American studies professors Simon Bronner, Michael Rockland, Michael Barton and Charles Kupfer.
In December 2013, the ASA membership approved the boycott with two-thirds of the 1,252 members who voted in support. At the time of the vote, there were 3,853 eligible voters, meaning a third of the membership participated. The boycott is not binding on members and targets institutions, not individuals.
The lawsuit charges that a boycott of another country is outside the scope of ASA’s charter.
ASA’s constitution says its goal is “the strengthening of relations among persons and institutions in this country and abroad devoted to such studies.” According to the complaint, the boycott does the exact opposite, since it separates an entire country and its academics.
The suit also claims the ASA refused to circulate or post to its website in the run-up to the boycott vote several letters opposing the resolution, including one signed by approximately 70 ASA members and another in opposition from eight former ASA presidents.
At least four U.S. universities withdrew their membership in the association following the vote — Brandeis University, Indiana University, Kenyon College and Penn State Harrisburg — and at least 55 American universities and colleges rejected the boycott resolution.
The Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law assembled the legal team to represent the American studies professors in the case.