Palestine Legal Media: Censorship at the University of Michigan

Palestine Legal senior staff attorney Radhika Sainath was quoted in several articles about the right to boycott at the University of Michigan, where a tenured professor has been sanctioned for declining to write a letter of recommendation for a study abroad program in Israel.

Palestine Legal initially advised the professor, John Cheney-Lippold, and is now advising Graduate Student Instructor Lucy Peterson, who similarly declined to write a letter of recommendation because of her support of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions. Cheney-Lippold is now represented by local counsel.

Below are some media highlights:

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Listen: Michigan professor punished for supporting boycott by Nora Barrows-Friedman (October 16, 2018)

“As an employee of a public university, the University of Michigan, Professor John Cheney-Lippold has full protection under the US Constitution, and that means that the university may not punish him for his viewpoint supporting Palestinian rights or because he is taking this principled stance to support the boycott for Palestinian rights.”


From Study-Abroad Programs Enter the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Gabby Deutch (October 12, 2018)

“In September, I asked Radhika Sainath, a senior staff attorney at Palestine Legal who was then advising Cheney-Lippold, if the professor had ever before declined to write a letter of recommendation for political reasons, or if he would decline to write a letter of recommendation for any other country. She responded that he would have declined to write a letter “for a student studying in apartheid South Africa, or at a whites-only university, or at a male-only university in Saudi Arabia—or any other study abroad program that is discriminatory, where other students of his could not attend.”


From UM disciplines prof over Israel letter controversy by Kim Kozlowski (October 9, 2018)

"I will say as an expert on the topic of censorship, that the university is violating John's rights by compelling him to speak in favor of a program that is fundamentally discriminatory and violates human rights, and that the university is doing so in response to an international pressure campaign," Sainath said.

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From Michigan professor stands firm despite Israel lobby attacks by Nora Barrows-Friedman (September 27, 2018)

Cheney-Lippold also “received threats that he’ll be scooped up off the street and thrown out of a helicopter, like military juntas did to leftists in South America during the dirty war,” said Radhika Sainath of civil rights group Palestine Legal, who is advising the professor.

“He received a threat that he’ll be gunned down or blown up while walking down the street,” she told The Electronic Intifada, adding that it has taken a physical and emotional toll on him.


From Lawyer: UM prof in Israel letter flap gets death threats by Kim Kozlowski (September 19, 2018)

“We’ve seen this over and over again, whether it’s students or professors,” said Sainath, who is based in New York. “There are often attempts by people who don’t want to see any criticism of Israel to attempt to shut down the speech."

"What's important to remember about the professor is he is a taking a principled  stance for Palestinian human rights,” Sainath said. "Writing letters of recommendation aren't any contractual obligation. They're a service. Professors have the right to saying no to writing letters for various reasons, including if they disagree with the institution that the recommendee is going to."

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From Citing Security of Tenure, U-M Professor Refuses to Write Letters of Recommendation for Study Abroad in Israel by Cameron Derwin

Cheney-Lippold is being represented by Radhika Sainath, a Senior Staff Attorney with Palestine Legal, which provides legal aid for Palestinian activists in America. In a statement published by Palestine Legal, she said, “A professor is not obligated to write a recommendation letter for organizations complicit in unlawful or unethical activity – whether it’s the NRA, President Trump or Israel institutions complicit in violations of Palestinian rights.”

For other media coverage, petitions to take action, and statements in support of the UM instructors, see our blog post here.