(October 12, 2018 / JNS) Almost a year after its student government passed a BDS resolution, the University of Michigan has been under fire lately for three recent anti-Israel incidents.
These cases involved associate professor John Cheney-Lippold, graduate instructor Lucy Peterson and visiting lecturer Emory Douglas.
As part of a guest-speaker series through the university’s Stamps School of Art & Design, the former Black Panther member compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the mastermind of the Holocaust, which resulted in the founding of the Jewish state. As part of the department-sponsored lecture, Douglas presented two slides that promoted the ideas behind BDS and violence against Israel.
A student, Alexa Smith, captured the images, two years after she observed a similar experience.
However, Douglas had an extensive history of anti-Israel activity before his lecture.
In March 2016, he partook in the annual U.S. Anti-Prison, Labor and Academic Delegation to Palestine “to focus specifically on political imprisonment and solidarity between Palestinian and US prisoners.”
The next month, Douglas called for the “freedom for the 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners currently held in Israeli jails,” even though most Palestinians are jailed for conducting terrorist attacks.
A statement claimed that the delegates were “inspired by the Palestinian people’s respect for their political prisoners and fallen martyrs—reflected in images on public walls, in moments of silence, in daily conversations” and referenced Palestinian kids who participated in “acts of resistance, which many call a third intifada,” and accused Israel of using “the uprisings as pretext for intensifying violence against Palestinian youth.”
The following July, he shared an Al Jazeera item on Facebook that applauded Khalida Jarrar, who was sentenced by an Israeli court to 15 months behind bars for belonging to a terror organization.
In September 2015, Douglas promoted on Facebook an art show at the Oakland Palestine Solidarity Mural in which he contributed. The occasion strived to make comparisons “for Bay Area audiences … between the forces of gentrification, land theft, state violence and colonization between the Bay Area and Palestine.” The event featured art highlighting “the pressing issue of Israeli Apartheid,” plus a banner saluting terrorist Rasmea Odeh, and labeling her as “the victim of another politically motivated witch-hunt.”
Odeh was a crucial military figure with the terrorist organization Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Fourteen months beforehand, Douglas shared an article on social media of Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei saying that “armed resistance is the only way” to ensure “Israel’s annihilation.” Douglas stated he “went” to a March 2014 exhibition by artist Mohammad Hamza, titled “Intifada Street.”
The graduate teaching instructor reneged on her promise to write 20-year-old junior Jake Secker a letter of recommendation to study abroad for a semester, also at Tel Aviv University.
“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,” Lucy Peterson said in her email to Secker. “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.”
Secker met last Friday with the Rosario Ceballo, associate dean for the social sciences in Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts, who agreed to write the letter in Peterson’s place, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the incident.
According to the Post, Secker’s father, who is Israeli, was so infuriated that he considered withdrawing his son from the school, but reconsidered after his wife contacted the president’s office, which connected the couple to the associate dean, who “offered to write any letter Jake wanted,” he said.
Secker, a friend of Ingber’s, nor Peterson responded to JNS for a comment.
Groups like the Anti-Defamation League condemned Peterson and called on the university to address the issue of students being denied letters of recommendation to study in Israel, despite the university’s policy against BDS.
“The University of Michigan must take immediate steps to ensure that students are not denied an opportunity to participate in an accredited overseas program because of their professors’ political views,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in a statement.
“The University of Michigan, and indeed all U.S. institutions of higher education, should ensure that students are able to pursue academic studies without having their studies thwarted by their professor’s political views,” he added.
“It is shocking and irresponsible for an academic to take this bigoted stance against Israel while ignoring the fact that Israel has offered statehood to the Palestinians,” who have rejected the offer three times in the past 20 years, Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein told JNS.
A university spokesperson declined to answer if Peterson is under investigation or if any course of action will be taken against her, citing that “the university is precluded by federal law from discussing student matters.”
The associate professor in the American Culture department refused to write a letter of recommendation in August for student Abigail Ingber to study abroad for a semester at Tel Aviv University.
“As you may know, many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine,” Cheney-Lippold wrote to Ingber. “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.”
Cheney-Lippold defended his actions. “I declined to write the letter because I believe in equality,” Cheney-Lippold said in an email. “Israel’s nation-state bill makes it so only Jewish citizens of Israel have the full night to self-determination. This is not the case for Palestinian citizens of Israel.”
The school’s president responded to a joint letter by almost 60 groups regarding Cheney-Lippold’s conduct, which stated that anyone like him “must be sanctioned to the fullest extent of university policy.”
“Withholding letters of recommendation based on personal views does not meet our university’s expectations for supporting the academic aspirations of our students,” replied Schlissel. “Conduct that violates this expectation and harms students will not be tolerated and will be addressed with serious consequences. Such actions interfere with our students’ opportunities, violate their academic freedom and betray our university’s educational mission.”
The professor was sanctioned on Tuesday by the university. The punishments against Cheney-Lippold include a stern warning, ineligibility for a merit increase for the 2018-19 academic year, in addition to being ineligible to take an accredited sabbatical until the fall 2020 semester.
The university announced on Tuesday that it will conduct a panel review consisting of “distinguished faculty members to examine the intersection between political thought/ideology and faculty members’ responsibilities to students.”