No Honorary Degree for Israel-Hater Tony Kushner

CUNY holds an Israel-basher accountable for libelous statements against the Jewish State.

For the first time since 1961, the City University of New York (CUNY) has rejected a candidate for an honorary degree. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner's nomination was tabled at a meeting of the board of trustees at member college John Jay on Monday, when board member Jeffrey Wiesenfeld objected. "If his libelous statements against Israel were made by anyone outside the Jewish community, that person would be correctly labeled an anti-Semite...when you spew libel against our sole regional democratic ally for 'crimes' concocted by delegitimizers, you are an anti-Semite," explained Wiesenfeld. "I would no differently oppose a racist for an honorary degree who personifies himself by calumny against a people," he added. Kushner, an unapologetic Israel-basher and notorious propagandist for the genocidal Palestinian campaign against the Jewish State, characterized the rejection as "McCarthyite nonsense."

It's hardly nonsense. Kushner has been engaged in activities with Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization whose principal strategy hinges around economic warfare (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel "to end the Israeli occupation of Gaza and West Bank, including East Jerusalem." Kushner claims he does not support the boycott, but such claims ring utterly hollow given the playwright's outrageous statements and background. Even in his letter to the board of trustees in response to his rejection, Kushner accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing" and, in an even greater departure from reality, also asserted that the "brunt" of the "ongoing horror in the Middle East..has been borne by the Palestinian people."

But this only scratches the surface. Kushner is currently out in the sympathetic press peddling the worst of his obscurantist rhetoric. In an interview with Jewish Week nine days ago, Kushner claimed there "has never been a moment in my entire life when I haven't expressed complete and full support of the State of Israel." Evidently, one can be a supporter of Israel’s existence while also having “a problem with the idea of a Jewish state. It would have been better if it never happened,” as he told the New York Sun. In 2002, he told the Chicago Tribune that it's “the shame of American Jews” for "failing to denounce Israel.” In 2004, Ha'aretz quoted Kushner saying that "[E]stablishing a state means f***ing people over," and reiterated his contention that the creation of Israel was "mistake."

Kushner has also rarely missed a moment to promulgate the false narrative perpetrated by Palestinian Nazis, whose charges of Israeli ethnic cleansing, racism, apartheid, imperialism, etc. are used to justify their terror and legitimize their desire to annihilate Israel. He has claimed in the New York Sun that “[Israel is involved in] a deliberate destruction of Palestinian culture and a systematic attempt to destroy the identity of the Palestinian people.” He told the Baltimore Jewish Times that "[T]he Israeli-built security wall should come down, the homeland for the Palestinians should be built up, with a strictly enforced peace, not enforced by the Israel Defense Forces, but by the United Nations.” In a book entitled “Tony Kushner in Conversation” (1998), the playwright offered up this assessment: "The biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community and Israel itself has got this disgraceful record…Israel is a creation of the U.S., bought and paid for[.]"

In 2005, Kushner brought his radical ideology to the big screen, co-writing the movie "Munich," which told the story of the Israeli government's retaliation for the assassination of Israel athletes by terrorist group Black Friday at the 1972 Olympics. The film attempted to make moral equivalence between the terrorists and the Israeli agents tasked with dispatching them. The central premise of the story, which posited that Israeli agents had regrets about taking out the terrorists, was harshly criticized for its historical revisionism. Avi Dichter, a retired head of Israel's Shin Bet who likened the movie to a children's adventure story, said there was "no comparison between what you see in the movie and how it works in reality." Ephrain Halevy, former Director of Mossad, said Munich “had no relation to the truth or the facts.”

Kushner took to the streets of New York in 2009 to protest Israel entering Gaza to stop Hamas from indiscriminately firing rockets into the country. Joining a group called Jews Against the Occupation, Kushner characterized the move as "policy on the part of the Israeli government of reoccupation," adding that he "can't imagine that this is not going to continue to be bloody and a violation of human rights." He warned that it's "an imperative not to stand by silently while the Palestinian people are brutalized and repressed."

The John Jay's board of trustees was made aware of Kushner's odious ideology during the meeting. They subsequently voted 11-1 in favor of shelving Mr. Kushner's honorary degree. Kushner characterized it as “a decision based on slanderous mischaracterizations without giving the person in question a chance to be heard...I’m sickened that this is happening in New York City. Shocked, really.” Jay Hershenson, CUNY’s senior vice chancellor for university relations and secretary of the trustees, offered the same statement with respect to both the vote and Mr. Kushner's accusation of slander. “The CUNY board of trustees acted independently and exercised its authority,” he responded.

Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, whose objection led to Kushner's reassessment, went further. “I think it’s up to all of us to look at fairness and consider these things,” he said. “Especially when the State of Israel, which is our sole democratic ally in the area, sits in the neighborhood which is almost universally dominated by administrations which are almost universally misogynist, antigay, anti-Christian.”

Mr. Wiesenfeld has been targeted for opposing Kushner. "Scores of emails laced with obscenities" were being sent to him, he said. The CUNY Advocate, a student newspaper, called him a "Zionist witch-hunter." Sandi Cooper, University Faculty Senate chair, accused him of inappropriately criticizing the playwright for his “presumed anti-Israel sentiments.” Professional Staff Congress president and anti-Israel extremist Barbara Bowen called Kushner's rejection "an insult to the academic judgment of the faculty,” and “an attempt to close off and narrow public debate.”

Weisenfeld was unruffled. "Even if you put aside Kushner's politics, an honorary degree adds prestige [to the university]. It's a form of marketing. How is it helpful to have an Israeli-basher get a degree?" he asked.

It isn't. Yet Tony Kushner remains indignant, apparently believing that his ideology should be inconsequential with regard to an honorary degree. No doubt that impression was fostered when he was awarded one by Brandeis University in 2006, and former Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz's responded to critics then by saying that "the University does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions[.]" The website Maggie's Farm reveals the absurdity of that premise, asking if philosophical giant--and Nazi party member--Martin Heidegger would be granted an honorary degree by CUNY.

Not as far as this particular CUNY Board of Trustees in concerned. Score one for common sense -- and common decency.

Arnold Ahlert is a contributing writer to the conservative website



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