USACBI stands with Prof. John Cheney-Lippold: join us in support

The following USACBI statement is also supported by a growing list of faculty (see below). To join this call to conscience, sign our online petition of support: To support our campaign to Boycott Study Abroad in Israel, visit our campaign page:

USACBI stands in strong support of John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor. Following his conscience, and the principles of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, Prof. Cheney-Lippold declined to write a letter of recommendation in support of a student’s application to participate in a study abroad program in Israel. As organizers of a campaign to Boycott Study Abroad in Israel, we stand in strong support of Prof. Cheney-Lippold and urge our colleagues around the country to join him in this act of conscience.

There are at least four reasons why Prof. Cheney-Lippold’s decision to not write a letter of recommendation is not only justified but critically important for those who stand for justice in Palestine and against racism and apartheid:

1) A letter of recommendation is not a right but is written at the discretion of faculty members. Professors, like any other individual, are entitled to hold firm positions on a matter of conscience and act in regard with those principles. Prof. Cheney-Lippold endorses the academic boycott of Israel. In declining to write a letter of recommendation for a study abroad program in Israel, he is aligning his actions with his stated views.

2) By declining to write a letter of recommendation for a student’s participation in a study abroad program in Israel, Prof. Cheney-Lippold is not preventing the student from participating in the program or seeking out other recommenders. Rather his decision is an expression of his own principled opposition to such programs and his unwillingness to be complicit with what he views as an unjust international situation.

3) Prof. Cheney-Lippold’s decision is grounded in significant evidence that Israel study abroad programs are not equally accessible to all students attending US universities. Some students, specifically students of Palestinian, Middle Eastern, and Muslim background, who attempt to travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories may be denied visas to Israel or would be denied entry into the country by Israeli customs and immigrations officials as stated in the US State Department travel advisory.

In addition, the Israeli government has declared its intent to deny entry to members of pro-BDS organizations, such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. Many students on US campuses are members of these organizations and would be barred from entering Israel. Consequently, study abroad programs in Israel exclude certain students on the grounds of national, ethnic or religious identity and political viewpoint, and are contrary to the basic principle of equality of educational opportunity.

4) Prof. Cheney-Lippold’s opposition to Israel study abroad programs is informed by a recognition that Palestinian students are routinely denied their right to education. Palestinian students – and faculty – live under extremely difficult conditions resulting from the Israeli military occupation and apartheid policies. Study abroad programs in Israel are an example of the extreme inequities faced by Palestinian students. While certain privileged students in the US who are not Arab or Muslim are free to travel to Israel and visit the West Bank, Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, and the West Bank often are prevented from attending classes in their own cities and towns.

Prof. Cheney-Lippold is a supporter of Palestinian human rights and refuses to participate in normalizing Israel’s political oppression. Such action affirms an ethical position increasingly shared by artists, musicians, actors, scholars, and students around the world who have endorsed the Palestinian call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. In doing so, Prof. Cheney-Lippold and like-minded scholars seek to pressure Israel to end the occupation, to recognize and implement Palestinian refugees’ fundamental right of return, and to end its discriminatory laws and apartheid system for Palestinian citizens of Israel denied equal rights. To conduct “normal” educational and cultural activities with Israeli universities–which actively support Israel’s oppressive practices–is to be complicit with acts of discrimination and injustice.

As educators, we have the ethical responsibility to stand by our political convictions, to advance social justice, and to expose falsehoods and partial truths. Given the United States’ extraordinary financial and military aid to Israel, Americans have a particular responsibility to put pressure on Israel. People of conscience, like Prof. Cheney-Lippold, have the responsibility to defend the equal treatment of all members of society and to take peaceful steps to oppose oppression.

Trump appointees Betsy DeVos, head of the Department of Education, and former Brandeis Center President Kenneth Marcus, head of the Civil Rights Division of that department, have advanced a policy that aims to suppress advocacy for Palestinian human rights on US university campuses. DeVos and Marcus have made it clear that the current US administration will ignore principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech in order to repress all criticism of Israeli state policies.

In this context, Prof. Cheney-Lippold’s decision is a particularly exemplary expression of his professional and political rights. Our fellow scholars should applaud his courage, which will inspire others to take a stand and oppose Israel study abroad programs. We join him in affirming that we, also, do not write letters of recommendations in support of student participation in Israel study abroad programs. We also call on our colleagues to build on his act of conscience and refuse to participate in Study Abroad in Israel programs by taking the pledge to boycott. The toolkit for organizing a campaign on your campus can be found here, along with research resources.

Finally, we invite colleagues to stand with Professor Cheney-Lippold by signing this petition:

The following faculty have signed on to this statement:

Richard Falk, Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University.

Cynthia Franklin, Professor of English, University of Hawaii

Terri Ginsberg, The American University in Cairo

Salah Hassan, Michigan State University

David Klein, Professor of Mathematics, California State University Northridge

Sunaina Maira, Professor of Asian American Studies, University of California,Davis

Adam Miyashiro, Stockton University

Bill V. Mullen, Professor of American Studies, Purdue University

David Palumbo-Liu, Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, Stanford University

Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University

Snehal Shingavi, Professor of English, University of Texas