Groups support UM professor who rescinded reference for student looking to study in Israel
ANN ARBOR, MI – While University of Michigan Professor John Cheney-Lippold has faced a good deal of criticism for his decision to rescind a recommendation for a student looking to study in Israel, the professor has received support from UM students, alums and the Ann Arbor community.
A letter with 185 signatures supporting Cheney-Lippold, signed by both UM students and community members, was presented to UM’s Central Student Government on Sept. 25.
“We are proud to stand with Professor Cheney-Lippold. We hope the University of Michigan will do the same, because the Palestinian people need our protection,” the letter reads.
An online petition from UM alums also has collected more than 100 signatures in support of Cheney-Lippold, while UM’s Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, an activist group, issued a statement standing in solidarity with students, faculty and staff boycotting Israeli universities.
“We support and affirm Professor John Cheney-Lippold’s right to boycott Israel,” the statement from SAFE reads. “His actions are the same demanded by Palestinian civil society, and serve to recognize and resist forces committing human rights violations. To punish Professor Cheney-Lippold for his actions would curtail his own academic agency.”
Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor of American culture at UM, told the student in an email he was taking part in an academic boycott against Israel, and could no longer provide the recommendation. His decision has since attracted national attention after the student’s email was shared across the internet.
After looking over the student’s request, Cheney-Lippold said he needed to rescind his initial support, noting at the time that “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine.”
He later clarified in an email to The Ann Arbor News that he should have said “many university professors have pledged an academic boycott against Israel,” rather than university departments.
Since rescinding the recommendation, the university, President Mark Schlissel and Regent Denise Ilitch have spoken out against the decision.
Additionally, 58 religious, civil rights and education advocacy organizations have called on UM and Schlissel to sanction Cheney-Lippold.
The organizations demanded that the university also sanction any other professors at UM who participate in the same practices, affirm that no UM student be impeded from studying about or in Israel and detail steps to ensure that faculty do not implement an academic boycott of Israel on campus.
“Impeding a student’s ability to participate in a university-approved educational program in order to carry out political activism is reprehensible,” reads the statement submitted by AMCHA Initiative, a group claiming to document anti-Semitic activity on college campuses.
The Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions movement is meant to put pressure on an Israeli government that, he argues, perpetuates “violence and dehumanization,” Cheney-Lippold said.
“For me, I see the boycott as a non-violent response to Palestinian (and also Israeli and other Jewish) activists and civil society who have called for international solidarity measures that pressure the Israeli state to move towards democratic rule, equal rights, and an end to the occupation of Palestine,” Cheney-Lippold wrote.