University of Michigan Issues Statement Opposing Academic Boycotts of Israel

Criticizing a faculty member who refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student planning on studying in Israel, the University of Michigan released a statement Monday expressing the institution’s opposition to boycotts of Israel.

The statement faulted an unnamed faculty member for allowing his “personal political beliefs” to interfere with the “support” he is willing to offer a student.

Shiri Moshe had reported Monday in The Algemeiner that Michigan Professor John Cheney-Lippold of the school’s Department of American Culture’s Digital Studies program refused to write a letter of support for a student, who was preparing to study abroad in Tel Aviv.

In a letter to the student, Cheney-Lippold wrote, “as you may know, many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine.” He explained further that “writing letters of recommendation for students planning to study” in Israel would violate the terms of the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to isolate Israel.

Cheney-Lippold’s explanation is consistent with the official guidelines of the BDS campaign, which considers “writing recommendations” for students who wish to study in Israel as a violation of the boycott.

The student, who preferred to remain anonymous, wrote to University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, describing Cheney-Lippold’s response as “very disturbing, as he is allowing his personal beliefs (and apparently those of ‘many university departments’) to interfere with my dreams of studying abroad.”

The statement from Michigan asserted that the school “has consistently opposed any boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education,” and that “no academic department or any other unit at the University of Michigan has taken a position that departs from this long-held university position.”

Michigan’s opposition to academic boycotts of Israel has been “stated publicly by university leaders, including this statement from the president and provost in 2013 and this statement from members of the university’s governing Board of Regents in 2017,” Monday’s statement read.

[Photo: Emily Mathews / Flickr ]