A conservative legal nonprofit is attempting to isolate an academic organization that has launched a boycott of Israeli scholars, demanding that the hotel hosting the group’s annual conference cancel their reservation — or face a lawsuit.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a law firm that generally promotes conservative and Christian principles, sent a letter to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in Los Angeles California. The hotel is scheduled to host the American Studies Association (ASA) from November 6-9 for the group’s 2014 convention, “The Fun and the Fury: New Dialectics of Pleasure and Pain in the Post-American Century.”
The ASA attracted widespread attention in late 2013 when it voted to begin an academic boycott of Israel over the country’s policies in Palestine. The policy means that academics will not be allowed to present at ASA conferences if they hold administrative posts at an Israeli university or if they would attend the conference in some capacity as a representative of such a university or of the Israeli government.
Israeli scholars who work outside Israel, or who attend as individual scholars not officially representing their institution, are not affected by the boycott. In addition, members of the ASA are expected to refrain from attending any conferences sponsored or hosted by Israeli academic institutions, though individual collaborations with Israeli academics are allowed.
The boycott has already proven controversial, with several dozen universities and hundreds of academics explicitly condemning the tactic. The ACLJ goes further, however, and argues that the boycott itself is a violation of California state law.
California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits all boycotts or refusals of service on the basis of many different factors, including race, religion and national origin. A boycott of Israeli institutions, the ACLJ argues, violates the national origin protection, while Israel’s peculiar status as a majority-Jewish country means the ASA’s boycott also amounts to an exclusionary policy towards Jews.
The Unruh Act itself, ACLJ’s letter says, was passed in response to fears that businesses would refuse to serve Jews over opposition to Israel’s policies, and ASA’s boycott is a textbook example of the behavior it is supposed to prevent.
“Because the distinction between those with whom the ASA will and will not enter into formal collaboration is based solely upon association with the State of Israel, any person (i.e., academic institution or individual representative thereof) who is prohibited from participating in the Annual Meeting at the Westin Bonaventure due to the Boycott will indeed have a cause of action under the Unruh Act,” says the letter.
The ACLJ argues that by providing service to the ASA, Westin Bonaventure would itself be “enforcing” the ASA’s boycott, thereby engaging in discriminatory behavior and exposing itself to a civil rights lawsuit.
The letter demands that Westin Bonaventure respond within five days, with the threat of a lawsuit if they allow the ASA meeting to proceed with the boycott still in place.
Neither the hotel nor the ASA could be reached for comment by The Daily Caller News Foundation, so it is unclear what their response, if any, will be to the threatened lawsuit.
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