The New York State Senate has overwhelmingly passed a bill that targets the American Studies Association (ASA) for supporting an academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions. The bill is due to be discussed this week by the New York State Assembly's Higher Education Committee, and if passed the bill would be voted on by the full assembly shortly thereafter. The governor also has to approve any bill before it becomes law.
Members of ASA voted in December 2013 to endorse the call by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel. Shortly afterwards, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association also announced its support for the boycott. Both follow the precedent set by the Asian American Studies Association in April 2013.
Al-Jazeera America reported that the New York bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator Jeff Klein, passed the state senate by a vote of 56-4 and would "prevent academic institutions from using state aid to pay for membership fees to organisations like the ASA or to reimburse state employees for travel or lodging associated with ASA travel."
In a statement released by his office, Klein threatened that, "I will not allow the enemies of Israel or the Jewish people to gain an inch in New York."
The Palestinians calling for the boycott, as part of the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, are protesting the on-going Israeli occupation of Palestine.
According to Students for Justice in Palestine, the bill has wider ramifications than just targeting the ASA. The group said in an e-mail that: "If [the bill] becomes law it would prohibit public universities and colleges from using any taxpayer money on groups that support boycotts of Israel. For instance, such funds could not be used for travel or lodging for a faculty member attending a meeting of a group that supports a boycott of Israel."
Dima Khalidi of the Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and Cooperating Counsel with the Centre for Constitutional Rights noted that the bill clearly aims to "discourage expressive activities such as boycotts based on the legislators' personal disagreement with the content of the expression." She added that: "Painting the ASA boycott resolution as discriminatory is not only inaccurate, but also distracts from the fact that its purpose is in fact to protest the human rights violations for which Israel is responsible, and the discriminatory policies and practices of the Israeli government. These bills would be both a violation of free speech and academic freedom, which the proposed legislation cynically purports to defend."