Academic Boycotts of Israel Might Be Illegal

December 3, 2015 | Eugene Kontorovich
About the author: Eugene Kontorovich is a professor at George Mason University Antonin Scalia School of Law, director of its Center for International Law in the Middle East, and a scholar at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem.

The National Women’s Studies Association recently joined the American Studies Association in resolving to boycott Israeli institutions; similar resolutions are now being considered by the American Anthropological Association and the American Historical Association. Eugene Kontorovich argues that these boycotts may violate the law:

Academic associations’ boycott actions may be invalid under the ultra vires doctrine of corporate law. That rule limits a corporation from acting beyond its chartered purposes. In the modern era, ultra vires has little relevance for regular, . . . for-profit companies. However, it still matters for non-profits, which often specifically limit their activities and goals in their constitutions. Such constitutional limitations are binding, and corporate actions that go beyond the express constitutional powers and purposes can be [prohibited by the courts]. . . . [M]ost scholarly associations’ constitutions dedicate them solely to advancing knowledge and research in their field. Such purposes not only fail to authorize boycotts but also exclude them.

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