Just as American Anthropological Association members have started voting on a resolution “to boycott Israeli academic institutions,” a law firm has threatened to sue.
The association said voting on the resolution began Thursday and will continue through July 14.
On Wednesday, Lori Lowenthal Marcus, legal director for the Deborah Project, which represents people “facing discrimination in educational settings because they are Jewish and/or pro-Israel,” wrote to the association’s executive director. Marcus said the firm has clients who are part of the association and are “deeply concerned about the association’s proposed resolution endorsing Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.”
“We will be closely watching the voting process and the [AAA] board’s response to this proposed resolution,” she wrote. “We will be watching to ensure that AAA members who oppose the proposed AAA BDS resolution are treated fairly and equitably during the voting process as well as after the vote is concluded, and that all applicable provisions of Virginia corporation law and any other applicable law, and of the AAA’s bylaws and other applicable provisions, are complied with. In addition, we will review how the AAA leadership implements the resolution should it pass.”
She wrote, “Should you fail to act consistently with AAA’s bylaws and/or with all relevant federal, state and local laws, we will not hesitate to bring a legal action against the AAA and/or the board.”
She continued to say the “resolution’s explicit call for discrimination against Israeli institutions” violates California and New York law and that it “violates at least” three provisions of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s antisemitism definition, which the commonwealth of Virginia adopted. One of these she said it violates is “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
The resolution doesn’t mention Nazis. Marcus said Thursday she was referring to phrases in it such as “the Israeli government enshrined the principle of Jewish supremacy.”
Jessica Winegar, a member of the organizing collective Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, said, “This legal threat really is totally bogus. It’s not based on any sound legal reasoning, and it’s really a baseless attempt at fearmongering both the AAA and its membership.”
Winegar, a professor of anthropology and Middle East and North African studies at Northwestern University, called it a “misuse of baseless legal threats to silence a democratic process within an academic association.”
Ed Liebow, the AAA’s executive director, said, “We are in receipt of this letter; we have referred it to our attorney and don’t have any comment to offer about it except to say that we are scrupulously adhering to the policies and procedures that we have for putting a ballot measure before our members.”