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Tax-exempt academic group's boycott of Israel draws fire

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A venerable American academic group's planned boycott of Israeli educational and cultural institutions over that nation's conflict with Palestinians has prompted a backlash from Jewish groups and at least one critic who plans to challenge the organization's tax exempt status.

The 5,000-member American Studies Association, which bills itself as the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to American culture and history, voted Sunday to boycott Israeli academic institutions. More than 1,200 members voted and 66 percent endorsed the resolution, which was unanimously supported earlier this month by the group's national council.

“The resolution is in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians,” a statement on group’s website reads. “The ASA’s endorsement of the academic boycott emerges from the context of U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and finally, the support of such a resolution by a majority of ASA members.”

"An academic boycott, particularly by an academic organization, is really self-contradictory."

- William Jacobson, Legal Insurrection.com

The vote is the latest example of division within the academic community over Israel. Earlier this year, the Association for Asian American Studies expressed support for an academic boycott of Israel, and physicist Stephen Hawking pulled out of a conference in Israel over the Palestinian issue. But those developments prompted the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to reiterate its stance against academic boycotts.

“The American Association of University Professors, as an organization, neither supports nor opposes Israeli government or Palestinian policies, although many of our members certainly have strong beliefs on one side or the other,” a May 10 statement read. “However, the AAUP does stand in opposition to academic boycotts as a matter of principle.”

An academic boycott runs counter to AAUP’s “commitment to the free exchange of ideas,” according to the statement, which urged other institutions to seek alternative measures to address their concerns regarding Israel.

Officials at the Anti-Defamation League, meanwhile, blasted the development as a "shameful, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest attack" on academic freedom.

"Targeting Israeli institutions solely because they are in Israel — the only democratic country in the Middle East where scholarship and debate are encouraged and flourish — is manifestly unjust," ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement. "We commend those members of the ASA who boldly spoke out and voted against this shameful resolution. We further applaud the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) for reiterating its opposition to academic boycotts which 'strike directly at the free exchange of ideas.'"

At least one critic told FoxNews.com he’ll be taking his issues with Monday’s announcement to federal officials at the Internal Revenue Service. William Jacobson, a professor of law at Cornell Law School who runs LegalInsurrection.com, said he believes the boycott violates the group’s 501(c)(3) tax exemption status pertaining to its educational classification.

“They can hold any view they want on the Middle East, but now that, as an organization, they have joined a boycott of Israel, they’re now a boycott organization and no longer a charitable one,” Jacobson said. “Our intention is to file a whistleblower claim with the IRS, asking the IRS to look into whether this conduct negates their 501(c)(3) status. I expect that to be done by year-end, if not sooner.”

Jacobson has retained Washington-based attorney Alan Dye to file that challenge, he said. And since the code pertaining those organizations indicates they must be “organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable … or educational purposes,” Jacobson said the case is likely a winning one.

“To me, this is not a pro-Israel or pro-Palestine issue,” Jacobson told FoxNews.com. “You don’t engage in academic boycott. An academic boycott, particularly by an academic organization, is really self-contradictory.”

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