The academic boycott of Israel has generated a lot of attention and noise in the past few weeks, even though it has not generated much actual boycotting.

No university in the U.S. is considering a boycott, as far as I know, and in many ways ties are expanding. The American Studies Association and a handful of much smaller faculty professional organizations have adopted the boycott, but even ASA had to back down from its key provision excluding most Israeli academics from its annual meeting.

There have been, and undoubtedly will be more, attempts to get larger faculty organizations to adopt the boycott, but so far that has not happened. There are complaints from some Israelis also of an undeclared boycott of them personally in the humanities, with some American professors refusing to interact.

But beyond the actual results, there is no doubt that the academic boycott movement is a malicious attack not just on Israel, but also on our entire academic system. It is led by some of the most outrageous campus characters, the rhetoric often is abusive, and the environment hostile and threatening.

It is no wonder that over 250 university presidents, as well as major academic groups like the American Association of University Professors, condemned the ASA academic boycott. Over 100 members of Congress also signed a letter condemning the ASA.

Soon we may be able to add a formal House Resolution to the list.

A bipartisan group of House members led by Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, has introduced House Resolution 318 (full text at bottom). The Press Release reads:

Today, Reps. Curbelo (FL-26), Bonamici (OR-01), Stefanik (NY-21), Boyle (PA-13), Lamborn (CO-05), and Higgins (NY-26) introduced H.Res.318, to condemn policies that call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars by institutions of higher learning or scholarly associations.

“The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses has unfairly singled out Israel, our closest friend and ally in the extremely volatile Middle East. Academic boycotts eliminate the possibility of open exchanges of ideas, and it is time for Congress to take notice and make a statement in support of academic freedom. American institutions must be able to engage in academic exchange with Israeli institutions, and I am grateful for the support of my colleagues who are committed to helping this important resolution move forward.

All those involved in the higher education system profit from the exchange of varying views and ideas. University leaders have recently observed a decline in joint scientific research with global companies over concern that their combined results would be boycotted. This example is one of many that illustrate the repercussions of the BDS campaign. To stifle respectful debate on college campuses is a threat to academia. This lack of acceptance is a tragedy, and students and teachers, no matter their origin, should be allowed learn and teach freely,” said Rep. Curbelo.

“It’s time we take a stand and say we will not sit quietly and condone our higher education system boycotting our trusted friend and ally, Israel,” said Rep. Boyle. “This is an important, overdue statement toward addressing this issue.”

“I am proud to join my colleagues on this resolution condemning these policies that hurt our interests, the interests of Israel, and that are contrary to principles of academic freedom,” said Rep. Stefanik. “We have no greater ally in the Middle East than Israel and we should be promoting interaction between our two nations – not boycotting it. I thank Congressman Curbelo for leading this important effort.”

“Misguided initiatives to boycott Israeli institutions of higher learning represent a contradiction of the principle of academic freedom and should be thoroughly condemned,” said Rep. Higgins. “These movements unfairly single out Israel, ignoring its rich tradition of the rigorous and free exchange of ideas.”

“I am pleased to sponsor this resolution with Representative Curbelo and to underscore Congress’s support for academic freedom,” Rep. Bonamici said. “Universities and their students and scholars benefit from the free and open exchange of diverse perspectives and opinions. Unfortunately, the BDS movement on college campuses threatens to stifle debate and dialogue that should be built upon respect for others—even in disagreement. We should not be pushing legitimate voices and views off of our campuses or shutting out foreign students and professors.”

“Academic-boycott is an oxymoron,” said Rep. Lamborn.“The attempt to limit the free exchange of ideas prohibits the real aim of academia – the pursuit of truth. It is an affront to the fundamental American education principal of Academic freedom. While cynically purporting to advance freedom and human rights the academic boycott campaign singles out Israel. This at a time when Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East; where people of all religions and ethnicities enjoy their freedom and can practice their beliefs. The value of American cooperation with Israel’s academia is indispensable. This cooperation plainly saves lives of American civilians every day through medical innovation, and helps us better protect our great country. We should all stand with Israel for the better future of America and freedom.”

This is a good first step, but it does not go far enough.

I challenged the ASA tax-exempt status on numerous grounds, including that an academic boycott is not educational, but anti-educational, and ASA thereby violates its exempt purpose. I do not know if the IRS has taken any action, since the process is deemed confidential.

Congress should take the next step, and pass legislation making clear that engaging in an academic boycott is not an exempt activity, and that a group that violates the purpose of its tax exemption will lose that exemption.

The ASA and others can boycott all they want, but they have no right to a tax exemption and taxpayer subsidy for doing it.

House Resolution 318 Against Academic Boycott of Israel (June 15, 2015)