A piece in the Wall Street Journal co-authored by two professors of law claims U.S. academic institutions’ boycotts of Israel are not legal.
Steven Davidoff Solomon and Eugene Kontorovich, professors at the University of California, Berkeley, and Northwestern University respectively, posited that educational associations participating in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of the Jewish state are liable to be sued for violating their charters.
“The moral myopia and academic perversity of these boycotts have been widely discussed. Less well understood is that in many cases they also are illegal,” state the authors.
The National Women’s Studies Association was the latest academic group to vote in favor of joining BDS last week. On November 20, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) also joined the movement, thereby prohibiting Israeli academic institutions to participate in any of the organization’s events.
According to the Journal piece, boycott votes are also scheduled at the annual meetings of the American Historical Association (AHA) and the Modern Language Association. They will join a long list of American academic institutions that have become affiliated with the BDS movement, including the American Studies Association who joined in 2013.
The WSJ article claimed that under corporate law, such organizations – both non-profits and for-profits— must conduct their affairs according to the specific purposes stated in their charter.
The article brings the American Historical Association as an example. Its constitution states its purpose as being “the promotion of historical studies” and the “broadening of historical knowledge among the general public.” It therefore follows, say the lawyers, that nothing in their charter would authorize a boycott. And an anti-Israel boycott will do nothing to promote “historical studies” or broaden “historical knowledge.”
“Saying that organizations cannot act beyond the purposes specified in their charters is no mere legal nitpicking,” they write. “The charter is an explicit contract with members, declaring that their money will be dedicated to agreed-upon goals and that their group will not turn into a motorcycle club or a political party.”
One of the charter’s main purposes is to protect the members of an organization that are not involved in its day to day affairs, giving those members the assurance that it is not acting in a way that is fundamentally foreign to its stated category.
The writers criticized institutions, such as the AAA, who try to sidestep the law by throwing around slogans like “ethnic cleansing” and “colonization.” The AAA’s claim that “anthropological frameworks and methods, ethnographic and archaeological, are actively used by the Israeli state to further occupation and colonization” is a contrived claim that won’t work in a court of law.
“It is no different than if historians were to assert that since Israel is a part of history the AHA can legally boycott the country,” the writers assert.