Suit Against American Studies Group Dismissed

December 12, 2017

A New York State Supreme Court justice last month dismissed a legal challenge to the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions, finding that the plaintiff demonstrated neither injury nor the standing to sue.

The recently dismissed case is one of two lawsuits filed against the association over its support for an academic boycott of Israel. The other one, filed by four former and current members, is ongoing.

The lawsuit, filed in 2016, alleged that the plaintiff, an organization named Athenaeum Blue & White that is described in court documents as an Israeli nonprofit with interests in education and publishing, was barred from joining the American Studies Association as an institutional member on the basis of its national origin. However, after the filing of the suit, Athenaeum applied for and received ASA membership.

“In the instant case, Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint acknowledges that it was accepted as a member of ASA,” says the ruling to dismiss the suit from Acting Supreme Court Justice Carolyn E. Wade. “There are no allegations that any of Plaintiff’s members were denied access to any of the New York programs hosted by ASA. The pleadings are also devoid of claims that Israeli academic institutions were denied membership. Thus, Plaintiff has not established an injury in fact. Moreover, Plaintiff does not plead whether it is an academic institution. Consequently, this Court determines that Plaintiff has not established that it has standing to commence this action.”

In court documents calling for the court to dismiss the case, the ASA described the suit by Athenaeum​ as “frivolous” and “baseless.”

"The gist of Plaintiff’s original Complaint was that it was being discriminated against by not being allowed to join ASA," an ASA filing says. "As pointed out in ASA’s Motion to Dismiss, that position was frivolous considering that membership is automatic for those who apply and pay the dues -- and Plaintiff had not alleged that it had even tried to join. Unable to refute that simple logic, Plaintiff then did what it was always able to do: it joined ASA. This of course made completely transparent the lack of any justification for Plaintiff filing the case in the first place, and exposed Plaintiff’s lawsuit as what it really is, a baseless attempt to intimidate Defendant and stifle First Amendment protected free speech and free assembly."

David Abrams, the attorney for the plaintiff and the executive director of the Zionist Advocacy Center, said via email that he “respectfully disagree[s] with Judge Wade's decision” and plans to file an appeal this week. He acknowledged that Athenaeum was permitted to join ASA. "Nevertheless," he said, "it is Athenaeum's position that generally speaking it is unlawful to announce a discriminatory boycott even if the boycott is not actually enforced. So for example, it would be unlawful for a restaurant to post a sign saying 'Jews not welcome here,' even if in fact Jews are permitted to dine in the restaurant."

“This derives from Section 8-107(4)(2) of the New York City Human Rights Law, which is a prohibition on certain public statements or advertisements to the effect that patronage or custom is unwelcome or objectionable based on the patron's race, national origin, etc.,” Abrams said. “For this reason, I am optimistic about the appeal.”

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