Klein and Hikind want penalties for colleges that boycott Israel

klein-and-hikind-want-penalties-colleges-boycott-israel
A protestor. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

ALBANY—Two Jewish Democrats in the state Legislature want to pull state aid from colleges and universities that are affiliated with a movement to boycott Israel.

State Senator Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx, who leads the chamber's Independent Democratic Conference, and Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, plan to introduce a bill denouncing the Washington, D.C.-based American Studies Association for boycotting academic partnerships with Israeli institutions over the occupation of Palestine.

The legislation would end state funding and bonding privileges from public or private schools that don't withdraw support for the ASA within 30 days.

In a statement released on Friday, Klein and Hikind argued that the boycott is a direct violation of New York's Human Rights Act, and called it “a slap in the face to Jews and supporters of Israel everywhere."

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

“Make no mistake: the ASA's boycott is targeted discrimination against Israel that betrays the values of academic freedom that we hold dear,” the lawmakers wrote. “New Yorkers expect us to reject discrimination in every form, and cutting off the state spigot is the best way of doing that.”

Curtis Marez, an attorney for the ASA said the group's boycott does not violate New York law, because it includes academic institutions in Israel, but does not bar collaboration with Israeli teachers and students. Marez called the legislators' proposal “legal bullying” that would be “found unenforceable by a court.”

“The ASA boycott, like similar civil rights boycotts undertaken to obtain dignity and equality, is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Marez said in a statement.

Klein and Hikind said they would send letters Friday to the chancellors of SUNY and CUNY, asking them to “immediately withdraw any support for the ASA.”

It's unclear how many New York colleges or universities are affiliated with ASA, but four members of the group's national council, which voted for the boycott, are from New York University. The national council polled members on the boycott, and 1,252 of 5,000 members responded, with 66 percent approving the boycott and 30.5 percent opposing it.

An ASA spokesperson said that universities themselves are not members of the group, which advocates for the study of American history and culture. Rather, individual departments and academic programs are members, and their memberships are typically funded through voluntary contributions from faculty, although some are financed with university funds.

“The Council voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action," according to a news release on the ASA's website. "It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians."

CUNY's interim chancellor, William Kelly, issued a statement Friday denouncing the ASA's boycott. He joins the leaders of many universities around the country.

“The free exchange of ideas is at the heart of the academic enterprise,” Kelly said. “Any effort to impede that flow is antithetical to the values that universities hold most dear. The City University of New York is proud of its many international collaborations and is committed to extending and deepening those relations.”

Kelly noted a new joint M.B.A. program between Baruch College and the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon LeZion.

“The need for global cooperation has never been more urgent, and we repudiate any effort to foreclose productive dialogue,” he continued.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher responded in a statement Friday that the system "strongly oppose[s] the boycott" and "will continue to support [student, faculty and staff] collaborations here in the U.S. and globally, without interruption."

But she also said that "individuals at SUNY may embrace the boycott or attempt to find other solutions, and that is their choice."

The higher education committee chairs in the State Assembly and Senate also could not be immediately reached.

Historically, the federal government has discouraged or outlawed U.S. businesses participating in boycotts of Israel.