Guest Column by Shlomo Klapper | The falsehoods of 'From Palestine to Penn'

· December 2, 2013, 4:46 pm   ·  Updated December 2, 2013, 11:07 pm

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There is a nuanced, compelling and factual case for the Palestinians. “From Palestine to Penn” is not it. Instead, author Clarissa O’Conor writes biweekly from the Middle East — or, more accurately, from her delusional fantasy world — spewing nothing less than bald-faced lies.

It’s far past the time that these should be challenged. Word constraints limit this discussion to O’Conor’s worst transgressions, but contact me for more.

I don’t know how else to say this: Many of O’Conor’s “facts” don’t exist. Take, for instance, a gem from “The Problem with Band-Aids”: “Israel is a settler-colonial apartheid state whose modus operandi is and always was policies of ethnic cleansing, displacement and systematic racism.” “Systematic racism?” In a Jewish state with Arabs in its highest echelons, with Arab Parliamentarians, Arab Supreme Court Justices, Arab doctors, lawyers and artists? In the only country in the Middle East without systematic discrimination against ethnic minorities, women and gays?

Even with its lamentable imperfections, Israel is undoubtedly the region’s only genuine liberal democracy. O’Conor’s claims of “systematic racism” are simply false. Which Israel is she talking about? What world does she live in?

O’Conor similarly fabricates reality in “Siding with the oppressor,” writing, “the efforts of the government of Israel to rid the land of Palestinians.” O’Conor conveniently ignores any facts that would stand in her way, which, incidentally, are nearly all the facts: that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza strip increased sevenfold since Israel’s founding in 1948. Or that while no Palestinian leader has ever recognized a Jewish state, every Israeli Prime Minister has recognized a Palestinian state. Far from wanting to “rid the land of Palestinians,” Israel, it seems, is the only player in the Middle East looking for peace.

Not that O’Conor could be convinced of that. Not only does she deliberately peddle lies, but she’s also opposed to even acknowledging that there is another side, writing, “The need to talk it out normalizes the actions of an apartheid state.”

No, O’Conor says, “dialogue” and “talking things out” and mutual respect and recognizing the other side are actually bad, and we should “be encouraging our universities to cut ties with institutions linked to the Israeli government” because “the actions of the State of Israel are not complicated.”

O’Conor thus damns the open-mindedness and nuanced thought Penn stands for. I’d hope that a Penn student, however uninformed, would be less crass.

Despite this being only a partial account of O’Conor’s deliberate mistruths — even when she does mention facts, she distorts them beyond recognition and neglects to mention any context whatsoever, like when she mentions Israel’s security fence but conveniently neglects to mention why it was built (hint: to end years of cold-blooded terrorism against Israel’s civilian population, which it was absolutely effective in accomplishing) — it should be clear that her column was not worth the paper it was printed on.

Which leads one to wonder, why was it printed at all? The DP’s staff is talented, smart and committed, making this column’s publication even more surprising.

Some questions should be answered. When the DP published O’Conor’s insidious lies, did it fact-check at all, or did it just do a sloppy job? Did the DP waive its rule that op-eds not be a personal soapbox for topics totally unrelated to the Penn community, or did it turn a blind eye to drive readership? One can only speculate. But what is certain is that the DP’s actions in printing this column constituted editorial malfeasance.

But O’Conor is indeed right about one thing: “[Penn] students may well become future U.S. government officials.” College is an intellectual stomping ground for us, the world’s future leaders.

This makes the column nearly tragic. The ink spilled writing lies could have been used for edification, for dialogue, for nuance. We could have learned how to be complex people, how to challenge our own suppositions, how to tolerate those who disagree with us, how to become more enlightened, enabled and ennobled.

Instead, we got O’Conor’s delusional column every two weeks.

The Penn community deserves better. The DP deserves better. And, if we’re really going to govern the world, the future deserves better.

Shlomo Klapper is a College and Wharton junior. His email address is sklapper@sas.upenn.edu.

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