PSLS advises American Studies Association that boycott is protected First Amendment activity

The National Council of the American Studies Association (ASA) voted unanimously to endorse academic boycott of Israel and on December 16th the ASA announced the full membership voted to approve the resolution by a two to one margin: "The Council voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians."

Palestine Solidarity Legal Support advised the ASA National Council that the legal threats are baseless.  The academic boycott, like other boycotts for human rights, is not illegal under any federal or state law, but is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Such frivolous legal threats are a primary tactic in the repression of Palestinian human rights activism, which PSLS formed in response to.

Many have written about the historic nature of the ASA debate, and the powerful breaking of taboo on the subject (see pieces by ASA members Alex Lubin and David Lloyd, and by Judith Butler in The Nation),  the outpouring of anti-colonial and anti-racist solidarity voiced during the debate, and the personal risks academics take when they publicly speak in favor of boycott (see piece by ASA member and Palestinian-American scholar Noura Erakat). And as noted in the New York Times, this is "the largest academic group in the United States to back a growing movement to isolate Israel over its treatment of Palestinians."

The opposition's reliance on legal bullying is predictable.  Alan Dershowitz, in an open letter threatening ASA members said "a vote for a boycott will expose you and your association both for legal and academic consequences."

Unfortunately, legal arguments are a necessary response to legal bullying.  But more to the point than any legal argument is this response from David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English at University of California, Riverside:

By and large, Zionists have refused to debate and have ceded that ground to their opponents. Instead, they rely increasingly on other means, predominantly legal and institutional harassment, to close down debate, force student senates to rescind democratically approved divestment resolutions, or punish students and academics for criticizing Israel.

There is no doubt that Zionist organizations have great power and the material resources to enable them to engage in a forceful assault on the American Studies Association.

But in the intellectual world, the resort to force is not a position of strength. Saturday evening at the ASA showed the power of reasoned, moral argument. And there is no going back from that. In the struggle for justice for the Palestinian people, a turning point has been achieved.