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 anyone."

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

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 bill 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 scales.

(* 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 lawsuit.")

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  • FreeToFear||

    If you like your free speech you can keep it!

  • albo||

    But there's a annual 6,000-word deductible for political speech before you get totally free speech.

  • Bradley Strider||

    I can't pin it down, but there's something amusing about the wording of this bill, and just how how carefully it bans boycotts while excusing sanctions compliance. Voluntary bad, mandatory good.

  • Tonio||

    ^This.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    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.

    Their first victory was convincing the world to use their idiosyncratic terminology.

  • Pro Libertate||

    O, what a tangled web we weave,
    When first we practice to deceive!

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    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.

    Oh, bullshit. No one is being penalized. They are being told they can't use public money to finance the boycott. Now, if the state starts taking away other money in order to stop the boycott, then we can speak rationally about punishment.

  • Sigivald||

    Bingo.

    Telling them they can't use public money to do it (for any boycott, thus making it content neutral*) is not the same as saying they can't do it with their own damned money.

    This is why any institution that cares about freedom of action shouldn't take The State's money.

    (* Of course, in the current world, it practically only prohibits spending on a certain form of Leftist activity, but that's a reflection of the generally-deeply-Left orientation of Academia-especially-in-the-non-sciences, and of the fact that the Right doesn't seem to try to organize anything like that.

    And likewise, I'd far prefer just cutting all Federal and Local funding to universities, period, but that's not on the table.)

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    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.

    Which is all well and good, but they don't have the right to use taxpayer money to advance causes and political positions that some of those taxpayers disagree with, no? Especially when those tax dollars go to support groups that actively advocate the genocidal murder of some of those taxpayers.

    The proposed law is heavy-handed, indeed; however, the correct answer is not the continued funding of ASA, but the removal of such groups from suckling at the state's teat. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and academic associations are not an exception to this truth.

  • Pro Libertate||

    This was roughly my point in quoting Scott--it's a mess created by the government having its hands in everything in the first place.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Absolutely. It's no more just to extort Palestinian-American taxpayers (among others) to force them to fund the Left-Handed Scholars of Masturbatory Art's "Israel: Fuck YEAH!" campaign than it is to extort those taxpayers in supporting one organization's participation in a boycott. Especially a boycott that has been proven to hurt Palestinian factory workers who have no problem working for Israeli-owned businesses in the settlements.

  • Andrew S.||

    I saw an article the other day (maybe it was linked here, my memory's shitty lately) that more or less made the argument that "Sure, some Palestinian workers are hurt by these boycotts if factories close (referring specifically to SodaStream), but who cares if they get screwed over, it's for the greater good!)

  • Pro Libertate||

    The revolution is successful. But survival depends on drastic measures. Your continued existence represents a threat to the well-being of society. Your lives mean slow death to the more valued members of the colony. Therefore, I have no alternative but to sentence you to death.

    Your execution is so ordered, signed Kodos, Governor of Tarsus IV.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    The First Amendment does not apply on college campuses.

  • ||

    Not a single reference to Scarlet Johansson choosing the evil occupying Sodastream over Oxfam?

  • CampingInYourPark||

    ...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

    Is the taxpayer free to withdraw their support?

  • R C Dean||

    into ending the occupations and recognizing a Palestinian right of return.

    I'm betting there's a way to describe this issue without cutting and pasting from PLO press releases.

    But these proposed laws are worse, because they use the state's power of the purse to penalize people for their political stances,

    But isn't actually prohibiting the the use of the state's power of the purse to penalize people for their political stances?

    prohibit any college from using state aid to fund an academic entity

    At worst, this is the State managing its own resources. At best, this is the State ensuring that its resources aren't being used to further certain political pet causes. How are either of those bad things?

  • Jesse Walker||

    But isn't actually prohibiting the the use of the state's power of the purse to penalize people for their political stances?

    What?

    At worst, this is the State managing its own resources. At best, this is the State ensuring that its resources aren't being used to further certain political pet causes. How are either of those bad things?

    Boycotting an entire academic association because of one resolution it adopted goes well beyond "ensuring that its resources aren't being used to further certain political pet causes."

    Beyond that: It's pretty much guaranteed that in a public university system, tax money is going to fund speech that one person or another disagrees with. As long as the money is being spent either way, the approach most consistent with the First Amendment is to avoid attaching ideological strings to those dollars. Otherwise...well, how far are you going to take the argument? Taxpayer money pays professors' salaries. Would you have a problem with a bill that insisted that, say, law profs refrain from using public money to espouse originalism?

  • ||

    Taxpayer money pays professors' salaries. Would you have a problem with a bill that insisted that, say, law profs refrain from using public money to espouse originalism?

    Looking at how funding for climate change goes I would have to guess any grants given out by the government to law professors only go to "living constitutionalists" and not "originalists".

  • kevrob||

    Privatize the demned gubmint collitches.

    Then let the privately financed academic pinheads boycott whatever teh hell they want.

    State and local government trying to have their own foreign policy is lame, anyway. As a native of NY State, and, technically, NYC (born there, but grew up out on LI), I've seen NY pols pulling this crap all my life re: Israel, Ireland and any other country that they think currying favor with will win votes from immigrants who vote, and their native-born relatives and friends.

    Kevin R

  • ||

    Wait...Colleges are using state funds to set up boycotts?

  • cheap soccer jerseys||

    The First Amendment does not apply on college campuses. Interesting

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