American Studies Association’s tax-exempt status challenged

Inquiries based on based on associations decision to participate in an academic boycott of Israeli universities and academic institutions.

January 8, 2014 01:06
2 minute read.
Boycotting Israel

Israel boycott 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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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.

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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 purposes.

“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 discrimination.”

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 policies.”

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 vote.

“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.”

Since the 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.

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