Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

UPenn Professor Amy Kaplan Advises on Anti-Israel Propaganda in College Courses (VIDEO)

February 26, 2012 12:37 pm 2 comments

BDS protest. Photo: wiki commons.

On February 4, during the anti-Israel BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania, there was a breakout session called “The Academic Boycott of Israel.” During that session’s question and answer period there was a very interesting exchange:

Educator in the audience:

“My question falls on Professor Norton’s statement that Boycott may not be the most important part of BDS, and is kind of the closest to where we live as academics and also with Professor Kaplan’s call to think about a positive program on BDS, a positive aspect of the Boycott [of Israel]….And that’s, um, about teaching in the classroom about BDS and how, not just in our life as professional producers of knowledge, and scholars, but as teachers, how can that be formed in this pedagogy, especially I guess when the course is not dealing directly with material that has to do with Palestine”
Amy Kaplan, professor of English at University of Pennsylvania:
“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. I mean, for example, I happen to know that you’re interested in prisons, and the literature and culture about, you know, prisons, so 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, and literature is really a great way to teach students about what’s going on — students they 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 Pennoptimist and it opens up a whole new world — so that’s my answer to that.”

Here is the audio, from StandWithUs.

Kaplan accepts the premise of the question, that it is desirable to try to insert anti-Israel material into every class, but she notes that some courses (like biology or calculus, perhaps) do not lend themselves to such blatant propagandizing. However, she goes on, there is nothing to stop an intrepid teacher from not only injecting anti-Israel content into courses about literature and culture, but dedicated anti-Israel activist/teachers can actually create courses with that purpose in mind.

The chair of the English department at the University of Pennsylvania, Nancy Bentley, defended Kaplan’s statement:

“She took the position instead that certain kinds of thematic courses, such as prison literature or prison history, would have an inherent relation to the topic of Israel-Palestine (as one case among others). Prison writing is a well established area in literary studies, as is the history of prisons. Any search of data bases will reveal this neutral fact of academic history. And I fail to see how the case of the Israeli-Palistinian [sic] conflict would be inherently inappropriate as a case study for a thematic course of that sort, just as with courses like war literature or the literature of mourning and violence.”

Of course, the problem with Kaplan’s example was not that Palestinian issues might fit in well with certain types of courses; of course they may. The problem is that college professors should not consciously and a priori insert anti-Israel content into courses, or even worse, design courses for the specific purpose of including such material.

What Kaplan advocates crosses the line from legitimate educational values to blatant propaganda masquerading as academics. Bentley sidestepped that issue in her statement.

Kaplan’s examples of using literature classes to push an anti-Israel agenda is actually more insidious. When students sign up for courses in politics or even history, they can at least be on guard for any bias that the teachers show in the course. However, if they want to take a class in art or literature, they should not be subject to what is essentially hate disguised as class materials. There is nothing wrong with introducing Darwish’s poems in a class of poetry if the context is clear; there is something very wrong with doing it to promote an agenda. Certainly Kaplan is advocating propaganda, but she wants like-minded teachers to give it to students whose knowledge of the facts of the conflict are probably limited. If Kaplan wants to loudly protest Israeli policies at a rally, that is her right; but to instruct teachers how to subliminally insert it in non-political courses is unethical, to say the least.

Even worse, this is apparently not considered to be problematic by a representative of an Ivy League school.

A video of the exchange is posted below:

2 Comments

  • For this post to make any sense whatsoever, you’re going to have to explain to us exactly how assigning Mahmoud Darwish and The Pessoptimist (a novel by an Arab citizen of Israel and former Member of Knesset) ipso facto constitutes “anti-Israel content.” Would reading a book by Amos Oz constitute “anti-Palestinian content” simply because it gives a human voice to the Israeli experience? All she’s suggesting is the conscious inclusion of an underrepresented voice in the literary canon, which is totally de rigueur in literature departments. But it would seem that you bizarrely regard any form of Palestinian self-expression as fundamentally problematic.

  • And StandWithUs doesn’t constitute propoganda?

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features World Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Tour operators are calling attention to Jamaica’s little-known Jewish heritage by arranging visits to historic Jewish sites on the Caribbean island, including a cemetery where Jewish pirates are buried. A report in Travel and Leisure magazine describes the Hunts Bay Cemetery in Kingston, where there are seven tombstones engraved with Hebrew benedictions and skull and crossbones insignia. According to the report, centuries ago, Jewish pirates sailed the waters of Jamaica and settled in Port Royal. The town, once known as “the wickedest city in the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Telling Israel’s story. It’s the specific title of a short film that Eyal Resh created last year. It’s also the theme behind the 27-year-old Israeli filmmaker’s broader body of work. The widely viewed “Telling Israel’s Story” film—directed by Resh for a gala event hosted by the Times of Israel online news outlet—seemingly begins as a promotional tourism video, but quickly evolves to offer a multilayered perspective. “I want to tell you a story about a special place for me,” a young woman whispers […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    JNS.org – The entrance to Jerusalem’s Sacher Park was transformed from April 25-27 by a fire-breathing robotic dragon, which flailed its arms and attempted to take flight. The robot, a signature feature at Jerusalem’s first-ever “Geek Picnic,” was one of more than 150 scientific amusements available for the public to experience. This particular dragon was designed by students from Moscow’s Art Industrial Institute in conjunction with the Flacon design factory, said Anatasia Shaminer, a student who helped facilitate the display. Children […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love. CreateSpace, 2015. The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love, is a very interesting novel. Equally a political and romantic thriller, at times a real page-turner, it gets you intimately involved in the dire situation in today’s Syria, as well as in the romantic entanglements of its mostly New York-based characters — whose entanglements just might determine the fate of that dire situation in Syria. Along the way it introduces a really important idea that somehow […]

    Read more →
  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →