There is an audio clip making the rounds (scroll down to listen) of pro-Israel blogs, purporting to reveal a University of Pennsylvania professor apparently suggesting that fellow teachers insert a boycott Israel message into their courses, even in courses not connected to Middle East politics. The audio clip was taped at the National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Conference earlier this month at the University of Pennsylvania about which The Blaze reported. Israel National News reports:
In a breakout session of the “Academic Boycott of Israel” initiative, Amy Kaplan, professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania spoke about how teachers can most effectively demonize Israel in every classroom as well as the "positive aspects" of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. A member of the audience asked Kaplan how teachers could incorporate ways of de-legitimizing Israel “especially, I guess, 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’re 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.” “…you can teach a course on which you included prison 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.”
Kaplan offered specific texts that could be used to drive home the point:
“...And, literature is a really 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, you know, they read Darwish, they read, you know, The Pessoptimist and it opens up a whole new world.”
Mahmoud Darwish was an influential Palestinian poet and PLO member who became a national symbol for many Palestinians. Kaplan was presumably referring to the book “The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist,” by Emile Habiby whose Amazon description reads:
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.
The pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon who originally posted the audio of Prof. Kaplan on YouTube wrote:
Here we have a professor at an Ivy League university explicitly calling on like-minded educators to shoehorn hate of Israel into every one of their classes. For these academics, college is not about teaching but it is merely a platform for them to spout their political views at their captive audience.
Kaplan, from UPenn’s English department, teaches classes including “Contact and Conflict: Literatures of Palestine and Israel,” “19th Century US Imperialism,” and “The Vietnam War in Literature and Film.” 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. Kaplan’s right to free speech is protected under the First Amendment. However, is the English department presenting alternate points of view to balance out Kaplan’s one-sided presentation? How are impressionable 18 and 19-year-old students supposed to discern the complexities of the Israel-Palestinian conflict if only one side of the story is presented? Kaplan who is on leave this semester did not respond to an e-mail message requesting comment.* Does Kaplan have a valid point on the merits of threading Palestinian talking-points into university lesson plans or is it just a veiled effort at indoctrination? Listen to the audio and decide:
*Update: the Elder of Ziyon blog that originally posted the above audio received comment from University of Pennsylvania English Department Chair Nancy Bentley. See her comments here in which she calls the characterization of Prof. Kaplan's remarks "not accurate."