(September 26, 2018 / JNS) This week, news broke that John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor in the University of Michigan’s American Culture department, refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student who is seeking to study abroad at Tel Aviv University, citing his support for the Palestinian-led academic boycott of Israel. He went as far as analogizing, “If a student had wanted to do a study abroad at an institution in Apartheid South Africa, I would have declined to write a letter for her as well.”
The professor’s actions are not only discriminatory, an abuse of power and a clear violation of his school’s policies. They reflect a basic fear among those who seek to demonize and delegitimize Israel—fear of the truth about the only democracy in the Middle East.
As the leader of the largest organization bringing Jewish young adults to Israel for immersive experiences (mainly from four to 10 months), I have a message for anyone who might listen to Cheney-Lippold and those like him: Ignore the boycotters. See Israel for yourself.
You can ask any one of the 140,000 students who have come to Israel through Masa Israel Journey.
They intern in the Knesset, in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with members of Israel’s Supreme Court, including Arab Judge Salim Joubran, the court’s former deputy chief justice. In Israel’s thriving democracy, members of minorities like the Arab community (representing about 20 percent of the nation’s population) are represented in the country’s most senior positions in the judiciary, politics, business and arts; the same cannot be said for any other state in the region.
They work in Israel’s booming culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, which leads the world in start-ups per capita, including for MobileODT, whose technology systems use mobile phones to aid in early detection of cancer and other diseases, and for Playbuzz, a Disney-backed platform whose real-time analytics tools create interactive stories for hundreds of millions of users. These start-ups do more than innovate. Their cutting-edge technologies make the world a better place.
They teach English to immigrants from Ethiopia, Bedouins in the Negev and work with Islam seekers in south Tel Aviv and underserved communities all over the country.
They study at world-renowned universities that serve as key engines that drive the country’s innovative identity, such as the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, whose professors and researchers pursue seemingly impossible goals like finding a cure for cancer and ending global drought. Those who want to boycott Israeli universities are, in effect, boycotting solutions to some of the world’s most serious problems.
They contribute their energy and passion to Israeli nonprofits that provide social welfare to vulnerable individuals throughout Israel’s entire society (not just its Jewish population) and worldwide. This includes Save a Child’s Heart—an international NGO that improves the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children in developing countries, and across the Middle East, and creates centers of health-care competence in those countries—Innovation Africa and many others.
Our participants hear a range of multifaceted, complex, diverse perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—unlike the simple, one-sided and defamatory accusations leveled by boycott activists like Professor Cheney-Lippold—that allows them to make up their own minds about the situation facing Israelis and Palestinians.
After their experience, Masa participants return to America and other countries around the world with a better sense of who they are and what they want to be, how they aspire to contribute to their societies and economies, a deeper comprehension of the world around them and nuanced perspectives on what the State of Israel is, and what the complex reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict looks like. Our alums are building bridges between peoples, not narrow-minded boycott proponents like Cheney-Lippold who drive people apart.
We encourage all students and young adults to disregard the boycotters on campuses and in other spaces, and to spend time in Israel. Come see the full picture for yourselves.
Liran Avisar Ben-Horin is the CEO of Masa Israel Journey.