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Sunday, October 19, 2014

LA hotel won't exclude Israelis in compliance with academic boycott

As you might recall, the American Studies Association has implemented an academic boycott of Israelis. The group is holding its annual meeting at the Los Angeles Westin Bonaventure Hotel and the Washington Post reported last week that, in compliance with the group's wishes, the hotel planned to exclude Israelis from staying at the hotel during the meeting.
In early November, the American Studies Association will be having its annual meeting at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles. Per the ASA’s recently adopted policy, Israeli academics will be subject to unique exclusionary restrictions based on their national origin.
The use of a public accommodation for such a discriminatory event has led a civil rights group to warn the hotel that hosting the conference could violate California’s civil rights laws. The Unruh Civil Rights Act provides that “no business establishment of any kind whatsoever shall discriminate against, boycott or blacklist, or refuse to buy from, contract with, sell to, or trade with any person in this state on account of” national origin and other characteristics. It also extends liability to those who “aid or incite” a denial or rights under the law.
I am not an expert on the application of California’s anti-discrimination laws, but the notion that a public accommodation cannot host an event that itself violates the law would at least seem consistent with the text of the statute. I also happen to generally disfavor anti-discrimination laws on, among other things, First Amendment (free association) grounds, but unfortunately for the ASA, these arguments do not fare well in courts.
The ASA’s argument that it does not bar Israelis, but only Israelis who attend as representatives of their academic institutions, will not likely help them much, as the normal way for academics to attend academic conferences is as representatives of their institutions. In any case, this argument amounts to saying the ACA is not discriminating as much as they could have, which is not an advisable defense in discrimination cases.
But even the International Tennis Federation eventually got it. And so did the ASA. They've backed off.
Professor Kontorovich’s blog post apparently got under the skin of the ASA, as it wrote to Prof. Kontorovich claiming that there was no boycott of any individuals whatsoever, as Prof. Kontorovich describes in a follow up post, ASA pretends to partially drop Israel boycott:
The ASA’s executive director, John Stephens, wrote to me demanding a correction, claiming that my description of their policy was entirely “false.” Stephens claims that despite the boycott
Our conference is open to anyone, including Israeli academics and non-academics. If someone were to register for the conference as a representative of an Israeli institution, he or she would not be turned away.
* * *
Stephens went on to write that:
[The ASA] does not bar Israelis, it does not bar Israeli institutions. Prime Minister Netanyahu can attend if he wants to.
But their very own policy makes clear that it excludes Israeli institutions and their “representatives,” as well as those of the “Israeli government,” of which Netanyahu would be a prime example.
As Prof. Kontorovich further demonstrates, since the ACLJ letter, the ASA has added language to its policy (indicated by an asterisk):
Heh. Read the whole thing

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