Academic boycott has become a fad that is attracting ivory tower dwellers left, right and center, so to speak, but more to the point, probably just left and lefter. After the American Studies Association came the American Anthropological Association, with the National Women’s Studies Association following holding onto their coat tails. Lined up to join the parade are the American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association. Wonder who else will hop on.
These organizations apparently feel that academic boycott provides an effective means for expressing dissatisfaction with Israeli government policy. Given that most Israeli academicians, leftists like themselves, are prone to agree with their colleagues in other countries over the issues of contention, it is not clear why they are directing their venom at their peers. (Well, I have a pretty good idea why, but that is not the topic of this piece.)
A minority of the memberships of these organizations disagree with the use of academic boycott for various reasons and it is beyond the scope of this post to list all those reasons. Law professors Eugene Kontorovich and Steven Davidoff Solomon give these dissenters an avenue to bring the professional associations back in line with the reasons for which they were established, which was NOT to take political sides in issues concerning non-American governments.
Kontorovich and Davidoff make the point that these boycotts are ILLEGAL. They are illegal because there is nothing in their charters that say that a purpose of the association is taking action to intervene in the political affairs of another country (or even of their own country). Twist the stated purposes of the boycotts any which way and you still are left with the clear understanding that people are not paying dues to a political or public affairs organization. In their words:
The purposes named in their charters are meant to protect the overwhelming mass of members who cannot get involved in the minutiae of the organization’s affairs, to ensure that the organization cannot be hijacked for a fundamentally foreign purpose, and to protect minority members. The charter is the minimal assurance that while an organization may act unwisely, it will be at least in the category of fieldwork, education and research, not beekeeping or boycotts.
The minority, who are opposed to boycott resolutions that are passed with much glee and fanfare, have recourse to sue their association boards in a court of law. It appears that this is a feasible path to take in view of the fact that the legal advisers of the Royal Institute of British Architects caused the organization to revoke its boycott-Israel resolution for fear of potential litigation.
The question is: do they have the courage to demand that their professional associations remain loyal to the purposes for which they were founded and not go off on tangents? After all, while
[i]t may be more fun to lead social protests than to conduct research[,] . . . if the members of an academic organization are unhappy with the limitations on politicking in its charter, they’re free to establish a new organization with a new charter. But the law does not allow them to commandeer organizations that already exist.
This post was originally published in Times of Israel blogs.