The Folly of Anti-Boycott Laws

Boycott Derangement SyndromeI have trouble shaking annoying partisan jargon
from my memory, so when I see the initials “BDS” the first phrase
that jumps to my mind is still “Bush
Derangement Syndrome
.” But these days the abbreviation stands
for “Boycott, Divestment
and Sanctions
,” a movement to compel Israel, through those
forms of economic pressure, into ending the occupations and
recognizing a Palestinian right of return. Last year the American
Studies Association (ASA) adopted a resolution to
join the boycott
—or, more exactly, a watered-down version of
the boycott that in
the words of one BDS opponent
is “unlikely to affect almost

Now a bill has
passed the New York state Senate, and has a good chance of passing
the House, that is explicitly
to punish the ASA for that resolution. To quote
the legislation, it

would prohibit any college from using state aid to fund
an academic entity, to provide funds for membership in an academic
entity, or fund travel or lodging for any employee to attend any
meeting of such academic entity if that academic entity has
undertaken an official action boycotting certain countries or their
higher education institutions.

The full text includes some exceptions to the ban (*), but
that’s the basic outline. (Libertarians should note that this is
not going to reduce government outlays: the idea isn’t to spend
less money, it’s to use the threat of cutting off funds to bring
the boycotters into line. At most you’ll see universities
distributing their dollars differently.) A similar
has been proposed in Maryland, and more may be on the way
in other states.

The ASA’s resolution is the sort of puffed-up symbolic politics
that makes me roll my eyes. But these proposed laws are worse,
because they use the state’s power of the purse to penalize people
for their political stances, a clear First Amendment no-no. An
academic association has the right to take whatever positions it
pleases; its members and others who interact with it are free then
either to join in, to withdraw their support, or
to hold their nose and carry on as before. What the critics
shouldn’t do is ask the government to put its thumb on the

(* The exceptions permit funds to flow to a group if its
boycott is “connected with a labor dispute,” if the boycott
involves a college in “a foreign country that is a state sponsor of
terrorism,” or
 if the boycott is “for the purpose of
protesting unlawful discriminatory practices as determined by the
laws, rules or regulations of this state.” The way that last clause
was worded prompted a blogger at the Albany Times
Union to ask:
“Does Israel’s treatment of Palestinians comport with New York
State law? To be sure, it would make an interesting

from Hit & Run

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.