Amy Kaplan and U Penn’s Anti-Israel Hate Fest (FrontPageMagazine.com) By David Meir-Levi 02/22/12)
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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
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
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
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
 Others of the same ilk at the conference included:
Bina Ahmed, who has urged anti-Israel activists to “support the
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
Bill Fletcher, who regularly accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing”
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
 Summarized and reviewed in its pre-publication state at
 See, inter alia, http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2012/02/bds-
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
 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
 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.
 Kaplan was presumably referring to the book “The Secret Life of
Saeed: The Pessoptimist,” by Emile Habiby,whose Amazon description
“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
 For full text of Professor Bentley’s response see her:
amy (Copyright © 2012 FrontPageMagazine.com 02/22/12)
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