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Second University of Michigan academic refuses to write student recommendation for study in Israel

NEW YORK CITY (JTA) – A second academic at the University of Michigan has refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study abroad in Israel citing support of an academic boycott of the Jewish State.

BDS Supporter
Lucy Peterson, a graduate student instructor, was enthusiastic about writing the letter when asked by Jake Secker, 20, a junior from Great Neck, N.Y. Peterson is a teaching assistant for his introduction to political theory course.

Then she learned that Secker was applying to study at Tel Aviv University, the Washington Post reported.

“I’m so sorry that I didn’t ask before agreeing to write your recommendation letter, but I regrettably will not be able to write on your behalf,” Peterson wrote in an e-mail to Secker, whose father is Israeli and who has visited Israel several times. “Along with numerous other academics in the U.S. and elsewhere, I have pledged myself to a boycott of Israeli institutions as a way of showing solidarity with Palestine.” She added, “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.”

In September, John Cheney-Lippold, a professor of American culture at Michigan, declined to recommend junior Abigail Ingber for a semester abroad in Israel over his support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the country, or BDS.

Another Professor Offers Recommendation
Secker and Ingber are friends and have commiserated about their predicament, the Post reported.

“The president of the university is aware of it,” Secker told the Post.

Rosario Ceballo, associate dean for the social sciences at Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts, also was in contact with Secker and offered to write him the recommendation letter.

In a statement on the Cheney-Lippold case, the university said it “opposed any boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education.”

ADL Statement
The university also came under fire recently after a student highlighted on social media that a required lecture for art students there featured a speaker who compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler.

The Anti-Defamation League called on the university to adopt a formal policy ensuring students’ academic pursuits are not stymied by the political views of their professors.

“Boycotts such as these, refusing to recommend a worthy student solely because she intended to study in Israel, have a chilling effect on Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus, who may feel isolated and vulnerable when authority figures or campus groups express hostility or shun them based on their views and associations,: ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.

“We are strong supporters of academic freedom. Certainly everyone, including professors, has a right to openly express their views of the policies of the elected Israeli government. But this should not be at the expense of students seeking to broaden their academic experiences.”

Also, Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, sent a letter to University of Michigan President Marc Schlissel calling on him to oppose anti-Israel hatred on campus in the wake of the lecture by former Black Panther artist Emory David for the Penny Stamps Speakers Series presentation of the Stamps School of Art & Design. He also referenced the Cheney-Lippold case.

“The time has come for you as head of the university to make a strong stand against what has clearly become a trend of vitriolic hatred against the Jewish state on your campus,” Bennett wrote to Schlissel, who is Jewish.



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