Important Victory for the Campaign to Boycott Israeli Universities

The USACBI Organizing Collective is pleased to announce that a spurious lawsuit against the American Studies Association (ASA) for its vote to boycott Israeli universities has been dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

This lawsuit involved four years of dragging the American Studies Association (ASA) and eight former officers–Lisa Duggan, J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Sunaina Maira, Curtis Marez, Jasbir Puar, Chandan Reddy, Steven Salaita, and Neferti Tadiar–through the court because of the ASA membership’s endorsement of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Simon Bronner, Michael Rockland, Michael Barton, and Charles Kupfer, the four professors who sued the ASA with backing from the Brandeis Center, the right-wing pro-Israel lawfare group founded by Kenneth Marcus, were finally handed a definitive judgment of dismissal by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

This ruling which rebukes the arguments made by Bronner et. al. is a landmark victory against anti-BDS lawfare. As one of the ASA defendants and USACBI Advisory Board member Sunaina Maira notes, “This major victory in the courts against Zionist lawfare and legal harassment is an affirming milestone for the BDS movement in the US academy and everywhere where anti-Palestinian organizations try to shut down scholars, students, and activists for supporting the Palestinian struggle for human rights. Given the dire situation on the ground in Palestine with Israeli plans for cementing their colonization of Palestinian lands, this is a huge win for the movement to continue boycotting Israeli academic institutions until this injustice ends.” 

This ruling, which rejects an effort to harass and intimidate members of the ASA, is also a victory for USACBI. Of the eight defendants, Kauanui, Maira, Puar, Salaita, and Tadiar all serve as Organizing Collective and/or Advisory Board members. As well, it is a victory for every organization, association, and group that participates, and will continue to be active, in the Palestinian-led boycott of Israeli Universities. The plaintiffs could not substantiate that they had been harmed by the democratic process by which the boycott resolution passed. As the ASA has announced in a press release that provides details of the lawfare, “We will continue to form principled alliances in the interests of academic freedom and social justice.” It also rejects efforts by Zionists to use the courts to destroy the lives of dedicated BDS advocates.  

More broadly, the dismissal curtails efforts by politically motivated opponents of BDS. It goes against the grain of the longstanding efforts of Kenneth Marcus to punish university faculty and students who engage in BDS advocacy. Marcus’s appointment by Trump as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, a position dedicated to enforcing civil rights laws and protecting students from discrimination, was opposed by hundreds of civil and human rights organizations. Before and after taking office, he has distinguished himself by focusing almost wholly on targeting those who speak up for the rights of Palestinians. 

Marcus initiated the first lawsuit against the ASA while at the Brandeis Center. The federal court first dismissed the case in February 2019 due to a jurisdiction matter, since the plaintiffs failed to make the case that they had suffered damages amounting to $75,000 each (the minimum required to maintain this action in the district courts). The plaintiffs appealed the federal case, while also filing the case in DC Superior Court. Although the second case is still pending, the federal court’s dismissal of the first case for lack of jurisdiction is a victory.  

Regardless of ongoing attempts to weaponize the law, the boycotting of Israeli academic institutions will not cease until the state of Israel meets the three major demands of the BDS Movement: full, equal rights for all Arab and Palestinian citizens; return of stolen Palestinian lands and the dismantling of the apartheid wall; and comportment with U.N. Resolution 194 respecting the right of return of Palestinians to their homeland. 

Jasbir Puar, another of the ASA defendants and USACBI Advisory Board member, explains why “despite these kinds of lawsuits, the BDS movement is stronger than ever.”“Lawfare” she observes, “ is designed to squash dissent, ostracize activists and scholars, and drain emotional and financial resources. Instead, we formed an amazing community of support and used the lawsuit to educate colleagues and grow the solidarity movement. Just as important as this legal victory are the connections we have nurtured and sustained with each other and with other movements for social justice.”

USACBI joins our comrades in celebrating this monumental victory.


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