NEW YORK – The American Studies Association is
having its nonprofit, tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization challenged,
based on its decision to participate in an academic boycott of Israeli
universities and academic institutions.
Cornell professor and lawyer
William A. Jacobson announced Monday on his blog, Legal Insurrection, that he
had filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service, requesting that it
review the ASA ’s status.
To qualify as a nonprofit organization under
regulation 501(c)(3), Jacobson said, “both as an organization and in its
operations, a group has to exist solely for their stated tax-exempt purpose, and
the purpose [claimed] here is educational.
The question now is whether
participating in this active boycott is really for educational
“Our argument is that the boycott is not educational, and
therefore the ASA is not operating exclusively for their stated tax-exempt
purposes,” Jacobson told The Jerusalem Post.
In his post announcing the
filing, Jacobson wrote that he filed a complaint under the Tax Whistle-blower
Act, and said, “ASA ’s academic boycott is not consistent with its educational
exempt purpose. ASA ’s academic boycott is anti-educational, seeking to sever
the free exchange of ideas and interactions among scholars and institutions so
critical to higher education. In addition to being anti-educational, it is based
explicitly on national origin – in violation of the public policy against such
The IRS is not legally allowed to comment on these
issues, however the ASA responded by saying that “the complaint to the IRS fails
to articulate any legitimate basis for a review of the American Studies
Association’s tax-exempt status.
Instead, it is yet another instance of
baseless legal bullying meant to harass and intimidate critics of Israeli
Jacobson said he intended to file a similar complaint against
the Association for Asian American Studies, which announced its boycott of
Israel in April, and he may also file one against the Native American and
Indigenous Studies Association, should its leadership council – which voted in
favor of a boycott in mid-December – choose to put the issue to a membership
“This does not turn on what your view is of the Middle East,”
Jacobson emphasized. “It would be the same if they [the BDS movement] were going
into an international organized boycott of Arab universities.”
ASA announced its boycott in late December, around 125 universities and other
academic institutions have taken a stance against the ASA , saying that its move
infringes on academic freedom.