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No, those Israel boycotts are not illegal

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On December 1, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an oped titled, Those Israel Boycotts Are Illegal” after members of the American Anthropological Association overwhelmingly voted in favor of endorsing a resolution calling for the academic boycott of Israeli institutions. The following is a letter to the editor in response which the WSJ did not publish.

To the Editor:

Re “Those Israel Boycotts Are Illegal (opinion, Dec. 1):

Sure, educational associations “may be sued” for endorsing the academic boycott of Israel —  anyone can be sued for anything — but any such suit would be a sure loser.  

This is probably why the authors have cited exactly zero cases where a court has found a nonprofit boardmember liable for violating the purpose of their corporate charter — much less a case where the so-called violation is taking a principled stance on a human rights issue.

The authors’ reasoning is also laughable: that because an association’s charter says “nothing about social change” its boycott of Israeli academic institutions “[is] illegal.” As any law student who’s taken a Corporations 101 course can tell you: modern statutes impose almost no limits on corporate purpose or powers. Such “ultra vires” suits went into decline along with jello salad and hot rods.

Even so, educational associations’ decisions to boycott Israeli institutions are aimed at promoting academic freedom for Palestinian scholars and students and thus fall squarely within the educational purposes for which such scholarly societies are established.

Less laughable is how such meritless threats are increasingly being used for the purpose of intimidating groups from engaging in protected First Amendment activity; a tactic documented in a recent report by Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Radhika Sainath

Staff Attorney
Palestine Legal

Cooperating Counsel
Center for Constitutional Rights
New York City

Radhika Sainath

Radhika Sainath is a staff attorney at Palestine Legal and cooperating counsel at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Follow her on Twitter at @radhikasainath.

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19 Responses

  1. oneangrycomic on December 17, 2015, 8:26 am

    THIS is the reason ZioThug Murdoch bought WSJ! Control of MSM is central to the Hasbara Propaganda campaign to prevent honest criticisms and discourse concerning Apartheid Israel. Even an official representative of an organization being attacked and lied about cannot get their letter to the editor published. Just one more basic U.S. freedom stolen from us by Zionist terrorists!

    Whether it’s FauxNews or WSJ, it doesn’t really matter. Honest criticism of Israel is forbidden in the “Occupied MSM”! But we will not give up. Herr Goebbels had complete control of Nazi Germany’s media and that didn’t stop the truth or defeat of evil either!

  2. CigarGod on December 17, 2015, 9:45 am

    Zionists seem to have no desire or ability to reason logically. Not allowing information to be considered is a pretty good insurance policy against any reasoning taking place.
    Has anyone ever compared the similarities zionism has to a virus?

    • Mooser on December 17, 2015, 7:22 pm

      Gosh, a couple of our legal-eagle Hasbaratchniks say the suits against BDS are a cert.
      Gonna mulct them BDS’ers for substantial damages. Buy Israel, or else. That’ll work!

  3. JustJessetr on December 18, 2015, 7:22 pm

    What are the cases that PL have fought, and most importantly, won?

    • talknic on December 18, 2015, 11:49 pm

      @ JustJessetr “What are the cases that PL have fought, and most importantly, won?”

      Courtesy of the Internet. Ever heard of it?

      Israel’s apologists appear to have no problem in displaying their ignorance

      • JustJessetr on December 19, 2015, 6:25 pm

        Easy killer. It was just a question.

        And I’ve seen that page, which is why I asked it. There aren’t any victories for PL mentioned. Letters written, advisement during academic disciplinary proceedings but not court proceedings, calls to action, demands (though you can’t demand much from a position of weakness), reports written, working with students to address threats, articles written, updates on events that PL didn’t engage with at all, claims to “partner” with the Center for Constitutional Rights in the Salaita case (where every article I’ve seen mentions only the CCR and the firm of Loevy and Loevy), amicus briefs and oral arguments for the Olympia Food Coop case that is as yet unresolved, monitoring college policies, non-legal appeals to change administrative decisions, condemnations of a non-legal type, etc, etc. But no victories. It’s possible that PL letters had an influence, but without any proof submitted, the opposite is also possible.

        Seeing that they haven’t fought any cases, and haven’t won anything, if I were in a position where I would need legal advice I’d probably choose a paid attorney who would give proper guidance under pain of disbarment. Not free advice from someone who is not held accountable. I mean, PL probably gets great press from this, but I fail to see why I would trust their views on anything. In the case of the Ithaca GreenStar Food Coop, the Board of Directors sought advice from paid, independent counsel before deciding to reject the latest BDS motion and so far no legal proceedings against their decision. So it seems like PL isn’t standing on firm ground with their opinions.

      • Mooser on December 19, 2015, 7:29 pm

        Shorter “Irvi”: ‘nobody has tried to bring suit, it’s a sure loser.’

      • talknic on December 19, 2015, 8:37 pm

        @ JustJessetr “And I’ve seen that page, which is why I asked it. There aren’t any victories for PL mentioned”

        Top of the page. They prevented it escalating to court. I.e., an out of court settlement, AKA a victory. Quite common in legal practice

      • JustJessetr on December 19, 2015, 9:17 pm

        Which case are you referring to? The Salaita case?

      • annie on December 19, 2015, 11:42 pm

        justjessetr, they’ve assisted in many instances of abuse. there have been several cases in calif launched against the UC system. you should write them and ask. i think they advised students at UCSC when that bigoted Tammi Rossman-Benjamin person initiated the investigation by white house task force on anti semitism (or something, i can’t recall who they are). every witch hunt trying to drag the UC system into court over anti semitism has failed. and there have been a few of them. they advised on those, at a minimum.

      • talknic on December 20, 2015, 3:43 am

        @ JustJessetr

        “if I were in a position where I would need legal advice I’d probably choose a paid attorney who would give proper guidance under pain of disbarment”

        Uh huh. It was settled out of court very likely for one reason. If it had gone to court it would likely have failed.

        “… I fail to see why I would trust their views on anything.”

        You’d rather it have gone to court for you to lose ? Weird!

        “In the case of the Ithaca GreenStar Food Coop, the Board of Directors sought advice from paid, independent counsel before deciding to reject the latest BDS motion and so far no legal proceedings against their decision.”

        So far

      • talknic on December 20, 2015, 5:46 am

        @ JustJessetr “Which case are you referring to? The Salaita case?”

        Uh? Try the one I gave you a link to

      • JustJessetr on December 20, 2015, 9:17 am

        Annie and Talknic,

        Thank you for your answers, but nowhere have either of you mentioned a win for PL. Their “advice” is not proven to have carried the day under any circumstances. Wherever pro-BDS plaintiffs have succeeded it could have been for any number of reasons.

        Talknic, your sarcasm is unwarranted. Your link is to yet another case of PL merely filing a letter and you claiming that PL won the day. Their and your spin on the situation is quite incomplete. Your answers lack the confidence of someone in the legal field or who even has the whole story in their hands. It could have been parents threataning to sue the school and the school didn’t want bad press, for example. It happens all the time. If you want to spend your time debating one-sided articles you read on the internet, be my guest, but I need to know if PL is the real deal. I remain thoroughly unconvinced at this point.

        WRT to the Saliata case, settling out of court could also have been for any number of reasons. And without proof that PL weighed in on the Saliata case and is not just filing amicus briefs and offering their own opinion at best, I would still have no confidence in them. As far as I can tell, their win record is zero. Perhaps the CCR would be a better choice to write an article here as they actually led the fight in the Saliata case, and while I wouldn’t turn the rewarded money down, Saliata was not brought on board anyway and the university claimed no wrongdoing. Good press, but not exactly a win.

        With such tenuous connections to “victory”, I would still rather go, as GreenStar did, with paid legal advice that told me to stay away from BDS because it would likely violate the law (not just surrounding the I-P conflict but also surrounding China). And no amount of reader commentary here would convince me to let my business be the test case for whether the law has merit or not. GreenStar and the Park Slope Food Coop have spent decades building their business and apparently don’t feel obligated to endure folks cherry-picking the mission statement so they can use someone else’s hard work as a platform for their own partisan politics. And anti-SLAPP or not, these coops still don’t want to be dragged through the muck of legal proceedings just for the pleasure of getting reimbursed as some unnamed point down the road. Do either of you run your own business? Would you just jump in and let your own businesses and lives be taken over by a lawsuit for what would likely be only a symbolic gesture of a boycott that helps literally no one? You may cheer from the sidelines, but it’s different when it’s your own neck on the line.

        Finally, PL claims ShuratHaDin won’t file a lawsuit. Well, that’s cold comfort when SHD is confident enough to go up against the UN and Facebook. Looks like PL free advice is worth every penny.

      • Mooser on December 20, 2015, 12:00 pm

        @JustJessett: There’s really only one answer that’ll soak up that small logorrhea splatz you left. And thanks for setting it up:

        So nue, so sue!

      • annie on December 20, 2015, 1:51 pm

        Thank you for your answers, but nowhere have either of you mentioned a win for PL.

        so what? i’m not your researcher. they have a full time staff, they get things done. it’s not my jobs to answer questions you’ve lobbed. if you’d like to make the argument they’re ineffective or benign i don’t care. just like i don’t care if you want to make the argument the bds is ineffective — make it — ignore them for all i care.

        this report might give you an idea of what they do:

        and yes, we’re winning on college campuses and will continue to win, thanks in good measure to PL, who are invaluable.

      • JustJessetr on December 20, 2015, 2:50 pm


        Well, it looks you’ve conceded the point when you answer with dismissive rhetoric, not facts. Or you answer with it’s-not-my-job when a win for PL should be all too obvious and not need much research. And your link is to more spin, smoke, and mirrors. Not a report of legal victories for PL.

      • talknic on December 20, 2015, 4:44 pm

        JustJessetr ” but nowhere have either of you mentioned a win for PL.”

        George Washington University President Steven Knapp folds and it’s not a win for Ramie Abounaja ? WOW! What an interesting theory

        “Their “advice” is not proven to have carried the day under any circumstances.”

        You’ve not shown any actual evidence to the contrary.

        “WRT to the Saliata case, settling out of court could also have been for any number of reasons..”

        I haven’t mentioned the Salaita case being settled out of court. Your notion that it was, only shows how little you actually know

        “Make no mistake: the size of this settlement is an implicit admission of the strength of Professor Salaita’s constitutional and contractual claims,” said Anand Swaminathan of Loevy & Loevy. “He has scored a major victory for those who care about free speech and academic freedom. In the future, university administrators will have to think twice before they choose the interests of wealthy donors and alumni over upholding their constitutional obligations. This legal victory could not have been possible without the support of a large and committed movement of activists and academics.”

        BTW one the foremost of ‘any number of reasons’ for folding out of court is that the position being held is untenable and not folding might cost considerably more

      • annie on December 20, 2015, 9:28 pm

        i’ve conceded nothing. it’s a trick question.

        re ‘winning’, palestine legal is a support team that partners w/law firms. its website began @ The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), as an offshoot of CCR, or support team – and they’ve branched out. therefore, it’s possible (but you’d have to ask them as i am not adept at legalese) they don’t directly represent clients in court (but i am not sure), therefore they “win” when their partners win

        Palestine Legal works closely with a number of organizations and individuals to provide legal support to Palestine activists around the country. Our partners include:

        The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is Palestine Legal’s founding partner. While Palestine Legal is an independent organization, we collaborate closely with CCR, and our attorneys are CCR Cooperating Counsel.

        The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) partners closely with Palestine Legal. We work with NLG attorneys around the country, with the NLG’s Palestine Subcommittee and the National Executive Committee to provide advocacy support for the Palestine solidarity movement.

        Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (ALC) partners with Palestine Legal in an effort to guarantee that Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian students’ civic engagement on campus is not undermined in the post-9/11 environment.

        one of CCR’s most successful high profile cases was the olympia food co op which PL worked on (absolutely). but the plaintiffs sued again and it’s currently up in the air before the washington supreme court (PL is actively engaged in this case):

        can you think of any examples where they lost? (do the homework lazybones) any cases they worked on (like the UC cases) where the counsel they partnered with lost? because i can’t off the top of my head.

  4. diasp0ra on December 18, 2015, 8:47 pm

    It is always laughable when Zionist opponents of an Academic boycott of Israel bring up academic freedom, because it is so clearly a ploy to silence BDS rather than it coming from a genuine interest in academic freedom. What makes me say this?

    The vast majority of Israeli academics only seem to be interested in academic freedom when it comes to BDS, in a letter by Israeli professor Tanya Reinhart, she stated that:

    “Never in its history did the senate of any Israeli university pass a resolution protesting the frequent closure of Palestinian universities [by Israel], let alone voice protest the devastation sowed there during the last uprising.”

    This view is further reinforced by the petition/social experiment of Israeli professor Menachem Fisch et al, who in the aftermath of the bombing of the Islamic University in Gaza during the war in 2008, circulated a petition among Israeli academics to denounce this attack against academic freedom and Palestinians right to education. Out of the 9000 academics contacted (5000 of which were senior faculty academics), a mere 4.4% of them agreed to sign the petition.

    So forgive me if I’m skeptical that Zionists care about academic freedom.


    Reinhart, Tanya. Academic boycott: in support of Paris VI. Znet, April 4th 2003.
    Fisch M, Falk R, Jablonka E, Gissis S, Academic freedom for whom?, 2009.

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