From February 3-5, 2012 the University of Pennsylvania hosted a National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Conference organized by “PennBDS.” The focus of the conference was the political and academic boycott of Israel, in the context of the BDS movement which promotes political activism against Israel, and seeks to educate students and faculty into methods of effective activism against Israel.
Because the BDS movement is well known internationally for its anti-Israel agenda, the conference generated considerable criticism from a variety of sources, including condemnation and commentary in Israeli press, with some very heated exchanges between pro- and anti-BDS spokespersons. Its organizers defended the conference as an expression of free speech and academic freedom, while others compared it to Nazi hate speech of the 1930s.
Other critics noted the stark anti-Israel bias of the BDS agenda and lack of balance in the conference’s speakers and panelists (not a single pro-Israel voice was heard), which cast in high relief the essentially pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist nature of the conference and of the entire BDS movement.
PennBDS leaders inadvertently justified this perception by revoking the press credentials of a journalist from The Jewish Exponent just one day before the conference. Even neutral observers noted that on one hand the BDS movement claims to be fair and balanced in its interpretation and representation of the Israel-Arab conflict, promotes itself as working toward a just and peaceful resolution between Arabs and Israelis, insists that it is not anti-Israel or anti-Jewish, and claims to champion free speech and uninhibited discourse. On the other hand, barring entry to a Jewish journalist representing a Jewish newspaper, who wrote a critique of the conference demonstrates a controlling and repressive anti-Jewish aspect of the movement which is quite the opposite of how BDS proponents represent it.
A similarly revealing decision was barring Brett Cohen, national campus program director for StandWithUs, from entry to the Saturday night keynote speech of Ali Abunimah, an internationally recognized Israel basher, even though Abunimah’s talk was advertised as open to the public.
But even more revealing was the list of speakers, many well known as anti-Israel personalities who seek the dissolution of the Jewish state by political or violent means. These speakers have a long and undeniable history of virulent anti-Israel rhetoric and borderline anti-Semitic vitriol. Their predominance on the dais of the PennBDS conference, and the absence of any voices to the contrary, brand the conference as a diatribe of irrational Israel-hatred and exhortation to the elimination of the Jewish state rather than any sort of constructive political discourse.
Among these speakers, Abunimah is primus inter pares. He demonstrated his anti-Israel credentials in his keynote speech, in which he compared Israel to apartheid-era South Africa, compared historical criticism of the Arab narrative to Holocaust denial, and called for a “one-state solution” which many see as a subterfuge for using Arab demographic expansion to end the Jewish majority in Israel and thus, via democratic plebiscite, to convert the Jewish state into a Muslim state with a dhimmi-fied Jewish minority. Elsewhere, most prominently on the anti-Israel website “Electronic Intifada” that he founded, he regularly compares Israel to Nazi Germany, and has compared Israeli defensive actions against terrorists as a Zionist holocaust of Palestinians.
It follows therefore, that those who participated in the conference but never uttered a word of balance, or raised any criticism that a putatively academic agenda had been transmogrified into the diatribe of Israel-hatred, knowingly supported the Arab efforts to eliminate the Jewish State.
And that brings us to Amy Kaplan.
Dr. Kaplan is a professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania where she teaches courses on the culture of imperialism, comparative perspectives on the Americas, and mourning and memory. Currently she is the president of the American Studies Association and is writing a book about the persistent and powerful working of Zionism in American culture and politics. Her most prominent publication, The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture, has been described by one reviewer as
a typical product of the academic sweatshop. Jargon abounds. The passive voice wraps whole paragraphs in gauze. Long words take the place of short ones; a voice that envisions itself as oppositional and penetrating distinguishes itself chiefly by its unbroken conformity to fashionable views.
But at the same time, the reviewer tells us, she provides real insight into American history and identity. So she seems to be a serious scholar, but at the same time a lackey to the whims of academic fashion and political trends.
She is also a signatory to the pro-Palestinian U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which calls for boycotting Israeli universities and academics, including those who support the Palestinian cause. It is not surprising therefore that she was featured at the BDS conference as the leader of a break-out session on February 4th, titled “Academic Boycott of Israel,” where she told participants how to surreptitiously insert into unrelated classroom material the “reality” of Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians. Her comments were captured on video and promptly disseminated via You Tube, giving rise to criticism directed at her and at her host university.
Her instructions came in response to a question from a participant in her break-out session.
Question to Kaplan:
My question falls … on Prof. Kaplan’s call to think about a positive program on BDS .… about teaching in the classroom about BDS …. how can that be formed into pedagogy; especially ….when the course is not dealing directly with material that has to do with Palestine?
Well I don’t know how you can, how you can address the issue if you are not dealing with a course that has no content or relationship to it. But I know that, I mean, you can make courses that have content. I mean, for example, I happen to know you and I know that you’re interested in prisons and the literature and culture about prisons. So you can teach a course on which you included prisons as a really, really big thing, not only in the political life of Palestinians but also in their literature and in their poetry. So that will be kind of an ideal way, you take a thematic course and you bring in themes from this issue. And literature is really a great way to teach students about what’s going on – students who think they know they have an ideological line, a political line, and then they read Darwish, they read, you know, “The Pessoptimist” and it opens up a whole new world – so that’s my answer (emphasis added).
The questioner wants to teach the Palestinian narrative in classes that are not related to the Middle East or the Arab-Israel conflict. Why would a college instructor want to do that? Why would anyone suggest that any aspects of BDS are legitimate themes for classes about other topics… unless, of course, the instructor wants to advance the Palestinian narrative, an essentially political agenda, into the putatively apolitical quest for knowledge that is supposed to take place in the university setting?
And Professor Kaplan’s suggestion is to construct a course such that its thematic structure accommodates the interspersing of pro-Palestinian themes into the course. In other words, subordinate the classroom to the political ideology of the teacher, and structure the classroom’s content such that the teacher can advance that ideology in ways that will not be readily apparent to the students. Professor Kaplan legitimizes the use of the classroom as a political bully pulpit to promote the teacher’s political persuasion…the exact opposite of what academic integrity demands.
Tragically, every bit as distressing as Kaplan’s enthusiasm about using the university classroom as a means to surreptitiously advance Arab propaganda and support the Arab war against Israel is her department chairperson’s disingenuous attempt to support her in doing so. Professor Nancy Bentley misrepresents Kaplan’s intentions by asserting that Kaplan did not think that such an endeavor was feasible. But the whole content of Kaplan’s response is how to do exactly that.
Bentley then goes on to say that since the examples given by Kaplan were electives, discussions of the politics of the Israeli-Palestine conflict would never be forced on a “captive audience.” Bentley sees no problem with the politicization of the classroom, expresses no expectation that the teacher will provide competing or conflicting views on the topic, seeks no standard of objectivity relating to the course, and suggests instead that as long as the course is not a requirement it is of no concern that the teacher is abandoning all pretense of academic objectivity.
Bentley, Kaplan, and the other attendees at the PennBDS conference are not only destroying the university from within by conforming to the whims of current academic fashion and subordinating scholarship to their own personal ideologies, they are also supporting the heinous endeavor of Israel’s enemies – the destruction of Israel and the genocide of its Jews – by promoting the faux narrative that justifies that endeavor.
This is not just bad scholarship, this is complicity with evil.
Complicity with evil is evil.
 Perhaps the most comprehensive and even-handed analysis of the conference is “The demonization of Israel” by Asaf Romirowsky and Professor Donna Robinson Divine, at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4192178,00.html and http://www.romirowsky.com/11202/israel-demonization.
Bina Ahmed, who has urged anti-Israel activists to “support the resistance.”
Helena Cobban, an anti-Israel blogger and former Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest,who has described Israelis as “stupid” and “incapable of empathy and compassion for other people.”
Bill Fletcher, who regularly accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid.”
Reverend Grayland Hagler, a Protestant minister, has called for the dismantling of the State of Israel, and who defended and supported the Holy Land Foundation, a Texas-based charity that was convicted in November 2008 of funneling money to Hamas.
J. Kehaulani Kauanui, a professor at Wesleyan University, who has claimed that Palestinians have the right to use violence against Israel because they are illegally occupied.
Ahmed Moor, a Beirut-based freelance journalist, who advocates support for BDS on the grounds that it will dismantle the Jewish state, and has been quoted as saying: “Ending the occupation doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean upending the Jewish state itself…BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.”
Dina Omar, who claims that Israel is “premised on the death of Palestine” and that Israel engages in “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians, and has been quoted as saying: “As it exists today, Israel being premised on the death of Palestine and privileging Jews over all others is a process of ethnic cleansing.”
Carolyn Boyd, who insists that Israeli policy in the West Bank “recalls the Jim Crow laws of the American South and the discriminatory practices of apartheid South Africa.”
Philip Weiss, a writer and founder of the anti-Israel blog “Mondoweiss,” has alleged that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is a sort of vicarious revenge for the Holocaust, with Palestinians standing in for the Nazis and the “abused becoming the abuser.”
 Summarized and reviewed in its pre-publication state at http://unitcrit.blogspot.com/2010/11/115-lecture-amy-kaplan-exodus-and.html.
 See, inter alia, http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2012/02/bds-professor-at-penn-explains-how-to.html; http://patdollard.com/2012/02/public-school-teachers-using-classrooms-to-attack-israel/; http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/152708#.T0Mxf8VSQ4v; http://news.yahoo.com/did-ivy-league-professor-suggest-including-anti-israel-063009857.html; and the misleading defense of Professor Kaplan by the chair of the English Department at the University of Pennsylvania, Nancy Bentley, at http://scrollpost.com/blog/2012/02/10/university-of-pa-responds-about-amy.
 Transcribed verbatim from the You Tube clip noted above end note #3 and from http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2012/02/bds-professor-at-penn-explains-how-to.html; and see there for additional comments and critique.
 Mahmoud Darwish was an influential Palestinian poet and PLO member who became a national symbol for many Palestinians. His poetry often demonizes Israel and supports terrorism against Israeli and other civilians.
“Saeed is the comic hero, the luckless fool, whose tale tells of aggression and resistance, terror and heroism, reason and loyalty that typify the hardships and struggles of Arabs in Israel…The author‘s own anger and sorrow at Palestine’s tragedy and his acquaintance with the absurdities of Israeli politics (he was once a member of Israel’s parliament himself) are here transmuted into satire both biting and funny” (quoted here from http://news.yahoo.com/did-ivy-league-professor-suggest-including-anti-israel-063009857.html).
 For full text of Professor Bentley’s response see her: http://scrollpost.com/blog/2012/02/10/university-of-pa-responds-about-amy
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