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  • Writer's pictureJewish Examiner

University Professor Targets Israel, Academic Freedom

University of Michigan professor John Cheney-Lippold denied a student a letter of recommendation

In September, as University of Michigan students returned to campus for the new academic year, associate professor John Cheney-Lippold overstepped all bounds of academic integrity by rescinding his earlier offer to write a letter of recommendation for student Abigail Ingber’s application to study abroad. He retracted his agreement because of of her choice of destination--Tel Aviv University in Israel--citing incorrectly his and other departments’ academic boycott of Israel associated with the BDS movement as the rationale for his change of mind. In truth, the boycott is not officially enforced by any department at the University of Michigan, but an official stance does little to root out such a harmful sentiment from campus. Lippold “teaches and writes on the relationship between digital media, identity, and the concept of privacy,” themes drastically unrelated to any aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Middle East or a related field.

Pro-Israel and pro-academic freedom groups across the nation immediately voiced their opposition to the professor’s punitive actions, leading to University of Michigan’s SACUA (Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs) issuing a blanket resolution denouncing the denial of recommendation on any basis other than the merit of a student.

“Within the guidelines set forth by the American Association of University Professors, and ‘demonstrate(ing) respect for students,’ faculty should let a student’s merit be the primary guide for determining how and whether to provide such a letter,” the resolution read.

While anti-Israel students associated with grassroots organizations like IfNotNow, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Students for Justice in Palestine--all with robust campus footholds--dominate the dialogue in these allegedly academic institutions, the sentiment of despisal for Israel is reinforced by accommodating and willing faculty.

Hamid Dabashi of Columbia University, for example, last academic year implied connection between Israel and “every ugly dirty treacherous and pernicious act happening in the world.” And in a September 20th piece in Al Jazeera, Dabashi drew a clear comparison between Zionism and “militant Islamism.” Dabashi has not been disciplined in any way.

Dabashi teaches literature to students, making his hatred towards Israel--like that of Lippold’s--a far-cry from his respective discipline and more of a personal vendetta overtly displayed in his academic setting. Yet the intended effect of these actions, to demonize Israel and alienate members of the student body, hold consequences far beyond his teaching space. Rather they fortify in the minds of future leaders that anti-Semitism under the guise of Israel-criticism is valid and warranted--by way of a sort of trickle-down effect of anti-Semitism. As students see the Palestinian cause emblemized by professors, they too feel it’s validity.

Dabashi and Lippold both are some of hundreds of outwardly pro-BDS professors currently employed at major universities and colleges across the world.

In an email with the Jewish News Syndicate, Lippold feebly attempted to provide reasoning for his support of BDS by citing infant mortality among Palestinians as being considerably higher than that of Israelis, evidence, according to him, of an apartheid regime. What Lippold and other academics with similarly-worded jibes against Israel neglect is the abusive governance of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, squandering significant portions of international aid on terrorist activities and compensating terrorists monetarily.

Lippold later went on to say that his decision to refuse a recommendation to Abigail Ingber was predicated on the pursuit of equality, which in his mind he furthered by campaigning for the theological, terrorist-sympathizers, and unjust government to stand in place of the democratic and tolerant State of Israel. Leopold's argument condones and explains away the mass violence perpetrated against Israel since 1948 through the present, and serves to paint Zionists as not worthy of even a letter of reference.

And this brings about the inherent flaws and demagoguery of the BDS movement. With direct ties and support from anti-Semites and radical leftists, the movement advocates against the premise of a Jewish state without thought of reconciliation or recognition of Jewish ties to the land. While it’s expected that the handful of genuine anti-Semites would support such ideals, it’s particularly egregious when supposedly scholarly individuals such as professors--and even some Jews themselves--ardently advocate for an outcome so unearthly. But now, the BDS movement has become popularized and made mainstream among a majority of Democrats. Considering the sizable investment that Democrats make in bolstering equality and inclusivity, support for BDS is a contradictory message that is entirely ignored among leftists.

While it’s apparent that the universities transformed into BDS-battlegrounds do not officially harbor such vehement political stances, so as to not alienate the Jewish and pro-Israel populations on campus, their actions to end the movement on campus have been muted at best. University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel has condemned Lippold’s actions in a statement. However as the school year gets underway, the University of Michigan must seriously question whether or not Lippold is an asset to their institution or a distraction, utilizing his professional capacity to politicize a university.

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