ASA Targeted, Again

Credit: George Thomas

Credit: George Thomas

Right Wing, Pro-Israel Legal Bullies Target the ASA, Again

On October 13, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a right-wing, Zionist lawfare organization, issued a baseless legal threat to the Westin Hotel in Los Angeles, which is scheduled to host the American Studies Association (ASA) conference in early November. The ACLJ falsely claims that the ASA’s conference excludes Jewish Israelis from attending, and that by hosting the conference, the Westin will violate California’s Unruh Act, a law preventing businesses from discriminating on the basis of national origin, race, and religion. In fact, no one has been discriminated against or excluded from the ASA conference, and no one will be.  The ASA, like other organizations, simply advocates the academic boycott based on academic institutions' complicity in discrimination and subjugation of Palestinians. The issue is not one of national origin, race, or religion, but a boycott of institutions that align themselves with or otherwise support the oppressive Israeli regime.

The ASA has responded to ACLJ’s erroneous claims:

There will be no discrimination of any sort against anyone based on national origin, religion, or ethnicity. We welcome Israeli academics to attend, and in fact several are already scheduled to participate in the conference program (see here for more information on the program).

Reports have also stated, erroneously, that the ASA had changed our policy regarding support for the academic boycott. We have not. Last year, after careful consideration by its membership, the ASA overwhelmingly endorsed an academic boycott to call attention to the violations of academic freedoms and human rights of Palestinian scholars and students by Israel. This limited action means simply that the ASA on an institutional level will not engage in collaborative projects with Israeli research institutions, and will not speak at Israeli academic institutions.

The ASA a longstanding commitment to social justice and believes in the power of nonviolent strategies, such as boycotts and divestment movements, as a tool to effect political, social and economic change.

Hank Reichman of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) comments on ACLJ’s unsupported claim: "California’s Unruh Act does indeed bar discrimination in hotel accommodations and does permit an institution to be considered a “person” suffering discrimination and hence eligible to bring a lawsuit.  But such a legal claim requires actual incidents of discrimination, and apparently the ACLJ has as yet identified neither an individual nor an institution that can be said to have been a victim of the alleged discriminatory behavior.”  He adds, “Moreover, ACLJ’s claim that the ASA boycott is anti-Semitic rings hollow, since not all Jews — indeed, not all Israelis — support the policies the boycott purports to resist."

In knee-jerk coverage in the Washington Post, Eugene Kantorovich echoes ACLJ’s false accusations of the ASA, alleging that “Israeli academics will be subject to unique exclusionary restrictions based on their national origin.”  The ASA is disputing this and other misstated facts with hopes that they will be retracted.  To date Mr. Kantorovich has only doubled down on his misstatements (while correcting his erroneous reference to the ACA rather than the ASA).

In January 2013, Shurat HaDin - The Israel Law Center sent the ASA a “cease and desist” letter threatening a lawsuit against it if it did not immediately end its academic boycott. Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and the Center for Constitutional Rights responded to Shurat HaDin’s threat.  The following excerpt from the statement can also be applied to the latest false claim, this time from the ACLJ.

ASA’s boycott resolution could not be considered discrimination, let alone discrimination based on animus toward the religion, race or national origin of any individual or institution; ASA’s actions are undertaken because of the policies of politically-accountable leaders in the Israeli government. Moreover, boycott and divestment strategies and the ASA position are grounded in the same anti-discrimination principles as other historical divestment and boycott strategies used to protest repressive state practices, including those employed against the South Africa apartheid regime and racial segregation in the United States.  It is precisely these kinds of boycott, which aim to effect “political, social and economic change,” that the United States Supreme Court has held to be constitutionally protected speech activities.

For more information about the American Center for Law and Justice, read this piece from the Electronic Intifada which explains that, “Founded by the far-right Southern Baptist minister Pat Robertson in 1990, ACLJ’s docket has been dominated by opposing same-sex marriage, outlawing abortion and evangelizing its anti-homosexual agenda in Africa.”

ACLJ’s threat is just the latest browbeat effort by Zionist groups to silence boycott efforts, such as the ASA’s, which seek to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.  Indeed, the precise purpose of the boycott is to pressure the Israeli government to end its systematic discrimination against Palestinians.