Statement of Solidarity for Lucy Peterson and Professor Cheney-Lippold
The Graduate Employees’ Organization at UIUC (IFT/AFT Local 6300) strongly expresses our solidarity with University of Michigan (UM) graduate employee Lucy Peterson and Professor John Cheney-Lippold. Under pressure from anti-Palestinian groups and politicians, UM’s administration is unjustly disciplining both instructors for their principled refusal to cross an international picket line against the discriminatory policies of Israeli universities. Out of respect for the international academic boycott of Israeli institutions, Peterson and Cheney-Lippold have refused to write recommendations to students for programs that discriminate against Palestinians. They have every right to do so.
In a heartfelt explanation for why she declined to write a recommendation for a student for a study abroad program in Israel, Lucy Peterson, who is a Jewish woman, wrote:
“Israel routinely discriminates against and bans Palestinian-Americans, which means many of my Palestinian students would be denied study abroad opportunities available to other students. I would not write a letter of recommendation for any program that discriminates and does not share the University’s commitment to equal opportunity for all community members. By choosing not to contribute to Israel’s discriminatory practices, I am defending equality and justice for Palestinians.”
Peterson is correct about Israel’s discrimination against Palestinian academics. According to the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights:
“Israeli universities have a long history of planning, implementing, and justifying Israel’s separate-and-unequal policies—from research, to intensify the military occupation, to building campuses on stolen Palestinian land, to repressing the academic freedom of Palestinian students every single day. Refusing complicity with these institutions is an act of conscience in service of full academic freedom for all.”
Professor John Cheney-Lippold explained his support for the academic boycott by comparing it to not crossing a picket line:
“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.”
Further, Professor Cheney-Lippold made it clear that he was happy to write a letter of recommendation for this student should they wish to apply for a different study abroad program that would not require him to cross a picket line. As retaliation for supporting the human rights of Palestinians, UM’s administration froze Cheney-Lippold’s wages and retracted his upcoming sabbatical. This is outrageous, cowardly, and unjust. We strongly condemn UM’s administration for taking such unprecedented action to suppress the academic freedom of a respected professor. We call on the UM administration to withdraw all disciplinary measures against Cheney-Lippold, and to refrain from censoring or otherwise punishing Peterson.
We at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are all too familiar with the harm administrators can cause to the university when they place the politics of anti-Palestinian lobbyists, politicians, and wealthy donors above academic freedom and the human rights of Palestinians. Here at UIUC, the administration’s cowardly un-hiring of eminent Palestinian scholar Steven Salaita in 2014 remains an open sore. To appease anti-Palestinian lobbyists, politicians, and wealthy donors, the administration recklessly trampled all over the values of shared governance, department autonomy, and academic freedom, and in so doing did lasting damage to the American Indian Studies program and the larger academic community. Fifteen academic departments cast votes of No Confidence in the Chancellor and President for their role in what has come to be known as the “Salaita Affair.” Further, this administrative malpractice led to a fully justified academic boycott against UIUC, which meant the cancellation of several talks, conferences, and other academic events which are important to a healthy academic culture on any university campus.
UM’s administration’s reaction to Cheney-Lippold and Peterson, like UIUC’s un-hiring of Steven Salaita, are indicative of an increased war waged by Zionists against universities. Undergraduates, grad students, and professors are growing increasingly supportive of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and are increasingly supportive of the human rights of the Palestinian people. Because of this, the Israeli state and its zealous supporters are increasing their efforts to influence U.S. universities, and to punish and intimidate supporters of BDS. University administrations need to be courageous enough to oppose these attempts to suppress academic freedom. Academics joined the movement against the South African apartheid system and boycotted South African academic institutions. Today they are using a similar tactic against Israeli apartheid by joining the BDS movement. Academics have the right to support BDS, and to support human rights everywhere.
We, the GEO Local 6300 stand in solidarity with our fellow graduate employee Lucy Peterson and with Professor Cheney-Lippold. We stand for academic freedom everywhere and for a free Palestine!