We have covered the American Studies Association academic boycott of Israel since inception, and compiled the definitive list and accompanying statements of universities and associations rejecting the boycott.  Scroll through the ASA Tag for the full history.

The short version is that the boycott targeted all Israeli academic institutions, and importantly, faculty and scholars acting on behalf of the institutions either as representatives, ambassadors or by virtue of administrative status.

From the earliest days of the ASA boycott, ASA tried to make a distinction between individuals and institutions, as if boycotting an institution was not also boycotting the people who worked there.

That was a critical charade, because the boycotting of individuals was too odious even for many people supporting the academic boycott.  So ASA could have a boycott of individuals while pretending it was not boycotting individuals.

That ASA distinction was set forth in a December 4, 2013 statement of the ASA National Council supporting the boycott and advocating for membership approval:

Our resolution understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the Association in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions, or on behalf of the Israeli government ….

That is a distinction ASA made throughout its public statements and position papers — if you were a representative of an Israeli institution, or if you had an administrative title, you were boycotted.

For example, a form letter ASA distributed to members to be given to university administrators made the same distinction:

The resolution understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the ASA in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others), or on behalf of the Israeli government ….

The ASA applied that core principle to its annual meetings, stating in its documentation that representatives of Israeli institutions would be barred.  As recently as October 11 (if not even later), that was ASA written policy:

ASA Par 5 10-11

On October 13, 2014, the American Center for Law and Justice sent a letter to the Westin Bonaventure hotel and its owners and operators putting them on notice that the ASA’s boycott rules as applied to the ASA Annual meeting violated California law, and asked the Westin Bonaventure not to allow discrimination on its premises.

The demand letter was discussed in my post, Will Westin Bonaventure permit anti-Israel discrimination on its premises?, and also several major websites, such as National Review and The Daily Caller.

Significantly, Northwestern University Law School Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, wrote about it at Volokh Conspiracy at The Washington Post, indicating he thought the Westin Bonaventure was at legal risk, Event at LA Westin hotel restricts participation by Israelis:

The ASA’s argument that it does not bar Israelis, but only Israelis who attend as representatives of their academic institutions, will not likely help them much, as the normal way for academics to attend academic conferences is as representatives of their institutions. In any case, this argument amounts to saying the ACA [sic – ASA] is not discriminating as much as they could have, which is not an advisable defense in discrimination cases.

Professor Kontorovich’s blog post apparently got under the skin of the ASA, as it wrote to Prof. Kontorovich claiming that there was no boycott of any individuals whatsoever, as Prof. Kontorovich describes in a follow up post, ASA pretends to partially drop Israel boycott:

The ASA’s executive director, John Stephens, wrote to me demanding a correction, claiming that my description of their policy was entirely “false.” Stephens claims that despite the boycott

Our conference is open to anyone, including Israeli academics and non-academics. If someone were to register for the conference as a representative of an Israeli institution, he or she would not be turned away.

* * *

Stephens went on to write that:

[The ASA] does not bar Israelis, it does not bar Israeli institutions. Prime Minister Netanyahu can attend if he wants to.

But their very own policy makes clear that it excludes Israeli institutions and their “representatives,” as well as those of the “Israeli government,” of which Netanyahu would be a prime example.

As Prof. Kontorovich further demonstrates, since the ACLJ letter, the ASA has added language to its policy (indicated by an asterisk):

ASA Par 5 10-18

Here’s Kontorovich’s take on what this all means:

Stephens tried to mislead me about the ASA’s policy, and is likely trying to mislead the Westin. The clear policy is to restrict participation by Israeli scholars in a way that no other nationality is subject to.

Even the belated claim to waive the boycott for the annual conference would not preempt legal liability. Academic conferences are organized, scheduled and registered months in advance. The discriminatory effects of their policy have already been realized. The fact that the policy was selectively not enforced for one Israeli academic (Mohammed Wattad of Zefat College School of Law) on the program does not mean it was not otherwise enforced.

However, the ASA’s attempts to deny their policy, and then belatedly modify it on an ad hoc basis says little for their integrity. Having adopted their boycott to much public fanfare, they want to be able to quietly deny it – when it suits them.

Their reaction also suggests they understand the weakness of their legal position.

I assume the change in policy is for real, or ASA’s Executive Director never would have put it in writing to Kontorovich and ASA never would have amended its policy on its website.  ASA can pretend there was no change, but the proof is there for all to see.

As Prof. Kontorovich notes, this change in policy does not necessarily end the legal issues.  A strong non-discrimination statement from the Westin Bonaventure also still is in order.

But make no mistake, this is a major capitulation by ASA’s national leadership.

The boycott of individuals representing Israeli institutions and the government at the Annual Meeting was a much highlighted part of the boycott.   Two Regional Chapters, the California and Eastern Chapters, already had announced that they would not enforce the boycott at their regional meetings, and I’ve heard no evidence any other Regional Chapter was enforcing the boycott at regional meetings.  So keeping Israelis out of the national Annual Meeting was all the pro-boycott leaders had to to show in terms of tangible results.

What is left of the ASA boycott? It always was mostly symbolic.  ASA as an organization still will not interact with Israeli institutions and representatives, but there never seemed to be much of that interaction to begin with on the national level.

Rather, the ASA boycott was an encouragement to others that discrimination against Israelis was acceptable in academia.

The only real teeth in the ASA boycott was the ability to exclude Israelis representing academic institutions or the government from the Annual Meeting.

Now ASA has agreed to have the Prime Minister of Israel attend if he wants!


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