American Studies Association denies its conference banned Israelis, saying even Netanyahu could attend if he did not represent his government — but not everyone buys that argument
(SOURCE) WASHINGTON — An American academic group under fire for reportedly barring Israelis from its conference says its boycott of Israel is not discriminatory and does not include sanctions against individual Israeli academics.
The statement by the American Studies Association came after the Los Angeles hotel hosting its annual conference was threatened with a discrimination suit over the group’s anti-Israel policies.
The Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles, California, came under scrutiny last week, when the American Center for Law and Justice sent its management a letter warning that the hotel may have exposed itself to civil action by hosting the ASA’s annual conference.
The legal watchdog group said that it was “deeply concerned that unlawful discriminatory exclusionary policies will be implemented by the ASA as to who is permitted to attend the Annual Meeting at the Westin Bonaventure,” due to the organization’s academic boycott of Israel.
A public petition calling on the hotel to refuse to host the organization was also initiated on the Change.org website.
During its annual conference in 2013, the scholarly organization made headlines when its members voted in favor of a resolution that would “honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.”
Cast by both opponents and proponents as a watershed moment for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, the well-established academic organization did not include the parameters for the boycott in the initial resolution.
The group said in a statement at the time that the boycott was limited to banning “formal collaborations” with Israeli institutions or scholars “expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors” of Israeli institutions or the government.
“The resolution does not apply to individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary forms of academic exchange,” the statement said.
The difference between a “representative or ambassador” of an Israeli academic institution and an “individual Israeli scholar” who is affiliated with an Israeli academic institution remains vague. In at least one letter addressed to the administration at the University of California – San Diego, the ASA explained that it meant “deans, rectors, presidents and others.”
Although the Westin has not issued any statement about the conference, the academic organization took to the blogosphere recently to defend itself against charges of discrimination.
Last week, in response to a blog post by Northwestern University Law School Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, an ASA official explained that even a government official – in fact, even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – could attend the group’s annual conference – provided they represented themselves and not the boycotted institution.
Kontorovich believes that even though it does not preclude the participation of all Israeli academics, the ASA’s version of the academic boycott constitutes “facial discrimination” – discrimination which is enshrined in statue rather than simply carried out on a de facto basis.
“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,” Kontorovich wrote in the Washington Post’s Volokh Report, adding that the current argument “amounts to saying the [ASA] is not discriminating as much as they could have, which is not an advisable defense in discrimination cases.”