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Professor Slammed After Refusing to Write Reference for Student to Study Abroad in Israel

09-19-2018

A University of Michigan professor is under fire for refusing to write a letter of recommendation for a student applying to study abroad in Israel.

John Cheney-Lippold, an associate digital studies professor, agreed to write a letter of recommendation for Abigail Ingber. However, he changed his mind when he realized the country she wanted to study in was Israel.

"I am very sorry, but I only scanned your first email a couple weeks ago and missed out on a key detail," he wrote Ingber in an email that went viral on social media. "As you may know, many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine. This boycott includes writing letters of recommendation for students planning to study there."

"I should have let you know earlier, and for that I apologize. But for reasons of these politics, I must rescind my offer to write your letter," he added.

Cheney-Lippold then said he would "be happy" to write other letters for her.

The University of Michigan unequivocally rejects boycotts, sanctions, and divestments (BDS) against individual countries and people. In a statement released Monday, the school condemned Cheney-Lippold's actions.

"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," the school said.

UM also reiterated its longstanding rejection of BDS.

"While members of the University of Michigan community have a wide range of individual opinions on this and many other topics, the university has consistently opposed any boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education," the statement said. "No academic department or any other unit at the University of Michigan has taken a stance that departs from this long-held university position."

Last November, a pro-BDS resolution passed the student government, but the university's board of regents rejected the proposal, saying they "strongly oppose any action involving the boycott, divestment or sanction of Israel.

Cheney-Lippold's critics say his decision to boycott the Jewish state is an act of anti-Semitism. However, he denies that accusation.

 "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," he told the Michigan Daily.

The university said it would engage faculty "in deep discussion to clarify how the expression of our shared values plays out in support of students."
 

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