January 21, 2014: The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Palestine Solidarity Legal Support (PSLS) today responded on behalf of the American Studies Association (ASA) to a “cease and desist” letter from Shurat HaDin - The Israel Law Center threatening a lawsuit against the academic association if it does not “immediately take all necessary steps to cancel the boycott of Israeli institutions and academics.”
The response from CCR and PSLS dismisses as “baseless” Shurat HaDin’s charges of discrimination. It states: “ASA’s action could not be considered discrimination, let alone discrimination “because of” animus toward the religion, race or national origin of any individual; ASA’s actions are undertaken “because of” the policies of politically-accountable leaders in the Israeli government.” Moreover, “BDS strategies and this resolution are each 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.
Since the ASA’s endorsement of a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions in December 2013, attacks against the organization have included waves of hate mail to the organization and its members, a complaint submitted to the IRS to strip the association of its tax-exempt status, and efforts in the New York legislature to withdraw or withhold state funds from universities that support organizations promoting “discriminatory boycotts.” Shurat HaDin’s letter now threatens to sue the ASA under New York State anti-discrimination laws.
The letter notifies Shurat HaDin: “If you proceed with a suit against ASA based on these meritless claims of discrimination, and in ignorance of basic First Amendment protections, ASA will defend its position vigorously, including seeking costs and any applicable sanctions.”