Recent campaigns against a professor and a graduate student at the University of Michigan over their refusal to assist Israeli universities in screening applicants via letters of recommendation have sparked questions from academics who support universal freedom and equality.
Over 1,400 academics from across the U.S. have endorsed the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Academics have endorsed the boycott for a variety of reasons, including concern about discriminatory policies that deny Palestinians access to education, the desire to not have the fruits of their labor directly contribute to Israeli government abuse and a commitment to solidarity with oppressed peoples.
The campaign is a response to calls from Palestinian civil society, and academics and cultural workers in particular, who have asked their colleagues from around the world to end their support for institutions complicit in Israel’s system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights. The campaign calls on academics to disengage from Israeli academic institutions until they have explicitly recognized the rights of Palestinian people and ended their complicity in Israel’s human rights abuses.
Academic institutions, anti-Palestinian groups, and the Israeli government itself have sought to punish academics who support a boycott, including most recently a professor and a graduate student at the University of Michigan who declined to write letters of recommendation to Israeli universities.
Particularly at a public institution, compelling instructors to go beyond their official duties and write letters that conflict with their political views are a violation of the First Amendment. Subjecting academics to censorship or discipline over statements made outside the classroom violates the principles of academic freedom to which most educational institutions adhere.
While professors routinely set standards for students and types of programs they will support with letters of recommendation, the attack on academics who boycott Israel is the latest example of the Palestine exception to free speech.
If you are a professor or instructor who has questions about your right to engage in an academic boycott in support of Palestinian equality, contact Palestine Legal.
Your particular circumstances may vary depending on your role and the type of institution you work for, but as a general rule:
Boycotting Israeli academic institutions is a political act unconnected to any student’s religion or national origin, and is therefore not discriminatory towards the individual student.
Boycotts are a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.
Many academic institutions have made it clear that their professors do not have a legal obligation to write a letter of recommendation for any particular student.
If you have questions or concerns, are unsure about your institution’s policies, receive a complaint or are called in for a meeting with administrators, contact Palestine Legal as soon as possible.
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