A second member of the University of Michigan’s academic team has refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student who is applying to a study abroad program in Israel.
On Yom Kippur, I shared my outrage over Professor John Cheney-Lippold’s (many of you asked how you can contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org) refusal to write a letter of recommendation for one of his students who was seeking the opportunity to study in Israel. While originally agreeing to write a letter, Professor Cheney-Lippold contacted the student and apologized for failing to read her request more closely. The professor stated that he did not notice that the student was seeking a letter of recommendation for a program in Israel. Once he discovered this oversight, he wrote to the student:
As you may know, many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine. This boycott includes writing letters of recommendation for students planning to study there…for reasons of these politics, I must rescind my offer to write your letter.
Just last week, Lucy Peterson, an instructor at the University of Michigan, responded to a student’s request asking for a letter of recommendation for a study abroad program in Israel by stating:
I regrettably will not be able to write on your behalf. Along with numerous other academics in the US and elsewhere, I have pledged myself to a boycott of Israeli institutions as a way of showing solidarity with Palestine. Please know that this decision is not about you as a student or a person, and I would be happy to write a recommendation for you if you end up applying to other programs.
The academic boycott of Israeli institutions is part of the reprehensible, often anti-Semitic Boycott Divestment and Sanction movement which has as its goal the delegitimization of Israel. The attempt by many BDS supporters to isolate Israel, silence Israeli universities, academics and artists and undermine the Israeli economy is fueled by a hatred of Israel that undermines any hope of a true peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Last year, Israel responded to the dangers of BDS by passing a law that bans anyone from entering Israel who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.” Just last week, around the same time Instructor Peterson refused to support her student’s desire to study in Israel, Lara Alqasem, a graduate of UF and a resident of Southwest Ranches, was detained in Israel because of her alleged affiliation with and support of the BDS movement. Alqasem, a 22-year-old granddaughter of Palestinians, arrived in Israel with a valid study visa as she is enrolled in a master’s program in human rights and transitional justice at the Hebrew University. However, having served as the president of the University of Florida’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, a group with inextricable links to the BDS movement and unsettling connections with organizations that support terror in Israel, Alqasem was denied entry into Israel.
Alqasem has told an Israeli court that she never actively participated in the BDS movement and has promised that she would not promote the BDS cause in Israel now or in the future. Gilad Erdan, the Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister, asserts that despite Alqasem’s statements, evidence suggests that she “backs the ideology of the boycott and isolation of the State of Israel.” The court has yet to decide if Alqasem can enter Israel and begin her studies. While she is free to return to the US at any time, she remains in an Israeli detention facility until the court makes a ruling.
Responding to this complicated situation, Hebrew University president, Professor Asher Cohen said:
What’s being done regarding this student hurts our activities against BDS…She wants to come here and learn. For a year…. She says she’s coming to study for a year. … That activity of hers is against BDS.
While I condemn the BDS movement and those that support it in any way and while I support Israel’s right to make her own laws and uphold these laws, I agree with Professor Cohen.
Those of us who support Israel and stand in opposition to the BDS movement are outraged by the academics at the University of Michigan who have refused to support their students’ desire to study in Israel. Denying a student the opportunity to connect with an Israeli university is one of the dangerous techniques utilized by BDS supporters. By denying Alqasem the opportunity to study at the Hebrew University, Erdan and the Israeli government find themselves acting like those who seek to delegitimize Israel!
Let Alqasem in. Let her study at an incredible Israeli university. Let her live in Israel. Sure, monitor her. Israel’s security can certainly keep tabs on a 22-year-old American student. If she becomes a real “threat” – act on it. But right now, Israel’s decision to deny an American the opportunity to study in Israel is the real threat. It has unfortunately become extremely powerful ammunition for those who seek to delegitimize the freedom, justice and equality that lie at Israel’s foundation. It is time to bring to an end the negative global attention this situation is inflicting upon Israel.
If you’d like, let Minister Erdan and the Israeli government know your thoughts by contacting them at email@example.com.