Photo Credit: Screenshot
Prof. John Cheney-Lippold

University of Michigan officials have issued a statement Tuesday criticizing a professor’s email informing his student he won’t recommend her for a study program in Israel out of respect for the academic boycott against Israel “in support of Palestinians living in Palestine.”

“This boycott includes writing letters of recommendation for students planning to study there,” Professor John Cheney-Lippold wrote LSA junior Abigail Ingber, who requested the letter for an application for a study abroad program in Israel.

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The University of Michigan statement said it opposed boycotts of Israeli higher education institutions, and suggested that “injecting personal politics” in writing recommendations for university students “is counter to our values.”

Club Z, whose mission is to create a network of knowledgeable, articulate, and impassioned activists with a commitment to Zionism who advocate for Israel, criticized the email, calling it anti-Semitic.

“We hope that the US Department of Education will take note of this case, in light of their recently adopted definition of anti-Semitism,” which includes the demonizing or delegitimizing Israel, or holding it to a double standard not expected of other democratic nations.

Cheney-Lippold told the Michigan Daily: “I support the boycott because I support solidarity. I follow the idea that people who are being discriminated against or people who need help … I feel compelled to help them. I was following a call by representatives of Palestinian civil society to boycott Israel in a very similar tactical frame as South Africa. The idea is that I support communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights, freedom and to prevent violations of international law.”

Michigan Hillel Chair Kendall Coden told the Michigan Daily: “I can’t speak for all students, but I know that I and many others feel hurt by this decision. Studying in or visiting Israel is an opportunity to immerse ourselves in an Israeli culture that is different from our own, but also a Jewish culture that is very familiar and part of our own identity. Students should not be denied the opportunity to experience another culture as a result of a professor’s political viewpoints.”

The university statement said “it is disappointing that a faculty member would allow their personal political beliefs to limit the support they are willing to otherwise provide for our students. We will engage our faculty colleagues in deep discussions to clarify how the expression of our shared values plays out in support of all students.”

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