Professor Refuses to Write Letter For Student Wanting To Study Abroad in Israel

A view of the national flag of Israel in Eilat city center. On Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in Eilat, Israel.
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

On Monday, a professor at the University of Michigan reportedly refused to send a student’s letter of recommendation — after originally agreeing — because the student wished to study in Israel.

According to the Times of Israel, John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor in the university's Department of American Culture, offered to write a letter of recommendation for a student named Abigail to study abroad. After Cheney-Lippold found out which country she wished to study in, he sent Abigail an email telling her he could not write it because “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine,” adding “[t]his boycott includes writing letters of recommendation for students planning to study there.”

Cheney-Lippold told her that he “only scanned your first email a couple weeks ago and missed out on a key detail,” in reference to the country she wished to learn in.

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

He concluded the email telling Abigail that he’d “be happy” to write other letters for her.

The university's student government passed a Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) resolution last November, but it was apparently rejected by the university’s board of regents. In a statement, the board affirmed their opposition to boycotting Israel: “Our university has long been a community that seeks to study and improve the human condition through our research and scholarship,” the statement said. “We work together to better understand the most complex challenges we face on campus and beyond. We do this work through active engagement in the world around us. To boycott, divest or sanction Israel offends these bedrock values of our great university.”

Last January, a bill was signed into law that prohibits boycotts against individuals and public entities of a foreign state, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports. The law prohibits state agencies from entering “into a contract with a person to acquire or dispose of supplies, services, or information technology unless the contract includes a representation that the person is not currently engaged in, and an agreement the person will not engage in, the boycott of a person based in or doing business with a strategic partner.”

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