A professor at the University of Michigan rescinded his offer to write a recommendation letter for one of his students hoping to study abroad after he learned that she wanted to go to Israel, citing the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against the Jewish state.
“As you may know, many University departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine,” American culture professor John Cheney-Lippold wrote to junior Abigail Ingber. “This boycott includes writing letters of recommendation for students planning to study there.”
The refusal to write the letter went viral after it was posted on Facebook by a Bay Area pro-Israel student group called Club Z, which said it had acquired the email from another professor who did end up writing Ingber’s recommendation letter. It noted that the Department of Education recently announced that it was adopting a new definition of anti-Semitism that includes setting a double standard for Israel compared to other countries.
Cheney-Lippold denied that he was anti-Semitic, and said he was acting in a personal capacity and not representing his department.
“I have no bad will against the student, and I would have very gladly written a letter for any other graduate program or study abroad,” he told the Michigan Daily. “The idea is that I am just one person, and by refusing to write that letter or at least rescinding it, I tried to keep to my conscious and to the fact that I believe that the boycott is a good tactic to enhance human rights and to get everyone in Israel-Palestine to have what international criminal court and the U.N. in general has requested, which is equal rights for everybody.”
The university rebuked Cheney-Lippold in a statement on Monday, saying that it had “consistently opposed any boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education” and that it was “disappointing that a faculty member would allow their personal political beliefs to limit the support they are willing to otherwise provide for our students.”
The professor was also criticized by a leader of the campus Jewish group Hillel. “I can’t speak for all students, but I know that I and many others feel hurt by this decision….Students should not be denied the opportunity to experience another culture as a result of a professor’s political viewpoints,” senior and Hillel chair Kendall Coden told the Daily.
The university’s student government passed a resolution in November calling on the university to divest from certain companies that do business in Israel and the West Bank — the first BDS victory in 11 attempts at the school. The university’s board of regents said a month later that they would not do so.
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