University of Michigan Professor John Cheney-Lippold refused to write a recommendation letter for a student after he initially agreed. After revisiting the student’s request and realizing the application was for a study abroad program in Israel, Cheney-Lippold apologized and rescinded his support, citing his academic boycott of Israel, an apartheid state that is oppressing Palestinians.

The incident escalated when the student, referred to in Cheney-Lippold’s letter as Abigail, sent a screenshot of the email exchange to a California based zionist organization, Club Z. Club Z posted the screenshot on Facebook, calling for Cheney-Lippold to be investigated for anti-semitism.

In his email towards Abigail, Cheney-Lippold writes, “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.”

He states that he must rescind his offer but is “happy” to write recommendation letters for other programs.

University of Michigan professor John Cheney-Lippold refuses to write student a recommendation letter for Israeli program, citing academic boycott of Israel

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Chief Executive Jonathan Greenblatt says the student is a “victim of political bias.” The ADL also maintains that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign (BDS), an international solidarity movement working to end support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, is purposely misleading to attack Israel.

Professor Cheney-Lippold is currently receiving a barrage of death threats, through his email and phone messages.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Cheney-Lippold states in an email, “If a union asks me not to buy a grape from a certain producer, or not to cross a picket line, I would support that. It’s the same thing here. Following requests from Palestinian and Jewish activists, I find the boycott against Israeli state institutions to be a very useful way to put pressure where I can as an academic.”

He continues, “I can’t prevent a student from going to Israel. But everybody has the right to withhold something, and I chose to exercise that right based on what the movement needs from me as a solidarity activist.”

While many university professors are in support of his boycott, the University of Michigan’s board has no stance on BDS, despite the student government passing a pro-BDS resolution. Further, a university spokeswoman told reporters, “Injecting personal politics into a decision regarding support for our students is counter to our values and expectations as an institution.”

Many point out that since the University of Michigan divested from apartheid South Africa in 1978, it should not make an exception for Israel’s occupation and oppression of Palestinians simply because Israel is a U.S. ally.

Currently, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel has published a statement in support of Professor John Cheney-Lippold.