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Prof won't write recommendation for student's Israel study-abroad plan, says he backs Palestinians

Image source: THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

A University of Michigan professor has come under fire after refusing to write a recommendation letter for a student who wants to study abroad in Israel — and the professor cited support for Palestinians as his reason, the Michigan Daily reported.

John Cheney-Lippold of the American Culture Department told the paper he refused to write the letter for junior Abigail Ingber because he wants to "help" those "being discriminated against."

'Following a call by representatives of Palestinian civil society to boycott Israel'

"I was following a call by representatives of Palestinian civil society to boycott Israel in a very similar tactical frame as South Africa," the professor told the Daily. "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.”

The pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is particularly popular on college campuses. Indeed, UM junior Sophee Langerman — a BDS activist — told the paper she supports Cheney-Lippold’s decision.

“I believe that this professor is 100 percent correct in his refusal of writing a recommendation letter in support of the BDS movement,” she said. “A trip to Israeli-occupied Palestine would mean the support of the mass murder and oppression of not only Palestinians, but Ethiopian Jews, Mizrahi Jews, East-Asian immigrants, and other non-white minority communities. BDS cannot support that.

"I would also like to point out that this professor was never under any obligation to write this student a letter of recommendation, and in fact, she got more than most students do by receiving a reply about why he would not participate.”

How did the administration react?

Rick Fitzgerald, UM's assistant vice president for public affairs, told Campus Reform it's “disappointing that a faculty member would allow their personal political beliefs to limit the support they are willing to otherwise provide for our students.” He added that “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."

What else did the professor say?

Cheney-Lippold told the Daily he denies claims he's anti-Semitic and said the BDS movement isn't about the people of Israel, only its institutions.

“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 added to the paper. "The idea is that I am just one person, and by refusing to write that letter ... I tried to keep to my [conscience] and ... 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 professor told the Daily that the student did find another individual to write the letter of recommendation.

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