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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cornell Law Prof to Challenge American Studies Association's 501(c)(3) Status Over Boycott of Israeli Universities

Fox News, Tax-Exempt Academic Group's Boycott of Israel Draws Fire:

ASAA venerable American academic group's planned boycott of Israeli educational and cultural institutions over that nation's conflict with Palestinians has prompted a backlash from Jewish groups and at least one critic who plans to challenge the organization's tax exempt status.

The 5,000-member American Studies Association, which bills itself as the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to American culture and history, voted Sunday to boycott Israeli academic institutions. More than 1,200 members voted and 66 percent endorsed the resolution, which was unanimously supported earlier this month by the group's national council. ...

At least one critic told he’ll be taking his issues with Monday’s announcement to federal officials at the Internal Revenue Service. William Jacobson, a professor of law at Cornell Law School who runs, said he believes the boycott violates the group’s 501(c)(3) tax exemption status pertaining to its educational classification.

“They can hold any view they want on the Middle East, but now that, as an organization, they have joined a boycott of Israel, they’re now a boycott organization and no longer a charitable one,” Jacobson said. “Our intention is to file a whistleblower claim with the IRS, asking the IRS to look into whether this conduct negates their 501(c)(3) status. I expect that to be done by year-end, if not sooner.”

Jacobson has retained Washington-based attorney Alan Dye to file that challenge, he said. And since the code pertaining those organizations indicates they must be “organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable … or educational purposes,” Jacobson said the case is likely a winning one. To me, this is not a pro-Israel or pro-Palestine issue,” Jacobson told “You don’t engage in academic boycott. An academic boycott, particularly by an academic organization, is really self-contradictory.”

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This challenge to 501(c)(3) status seems absolutely ludicrous, regardless of how you feel about the organization's stance.

Posted by: HTA | Dec 18, 2013 12:25:18 PM

So a university that votes to divest its stock in corporations that do business in apartheid South Africa loses its 501(c)(3) status? If I recall correctly, the divestiture movement called itself a boycott as well.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Dec 18, 2013 1:18:11 PM

The boycott is an awful idea and people are justified in fighting back.

Posted by: michael livingston | Dec 19, 2013 1:31:42 AM

Standing? See Allen v. Wright.
IRS' Prosecutorial Discretion? See Heckler v. Chaney.

Posted by: Andre L. Smith | Dec 19, 2013 2:47:22 AM

Scratch the surface of these self righteous folks and you'll find an anti-Semite or self hating Jew, hiding their true identities under a facade of concern for the Palestinians. They prove this by ignoring the many travesties all over the world while focusing their small minded hatred on Israel.

Posted by: Marc Haven | Dec 19, 2013 6:16:18 AM

Michael, this isn't about the merits of the boycott. It's about this group's 501(c)(3) status. If you can tell me why this case will even get to trial, I'm all ears.

Posted by: HTA | Dec 19, 2013 7:03:22 AM

The only thing that is ludicrous about this entire situation is the fact that the notion of a boycott on Israeli Academics even came to light. That being said, I do apologize for the fact that within 50 years of being founded in a place that had nothing but sand, Israel has become one of the most prominent and successful nations in world history, our bad. Fingers crossed that the ASA loses their tax exempt status.

Academics of all people should be trying to help figure out a solution to the conflict. It is truly embarrassing on the ASA's part to participate in a petty boycott on a nation with countless universities and academic opportunities for their citizens. Ludicrous is right.

Posted by: ER | Dec 19, 2013 8:11:28 AM

Sorry, but 501(c)(3) status doesn't turn on whether you agree with a group's activities or not. This challenge is silly.

Posted by: G.E. Moore | Dec 19, 2013 8:26:12 AM

Standing is irrelevant here, because he's just planning on sending in a complaint to the IRS, which will promptly go in their circular file.

Posted by: jpe | Dec 19, 2013 8:59:52 AM

@HTA It's a hard argument, but if they were engaged in political activity--and if the standing issue could be overcome--it isn't necessarily absurd. There is a political value as well. If someone challenged the tax exemption of (say) Penn or NYU on the basis of their outrageously high salaries--or Alabama its football program--the suit probably wouldn't succeed but it would still make a point.

Posted by: michael livingston | Dec 20, 2013 2:10:12 AM