Playwright Tony Kushner was to receive an honorary degree from CUNY’s John Jay College during a June 3 commencement ceremony, but The Jewish Week reports that the university’s board vetoed the degree at the last minute after board member Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld discovered what he believed to be anti-Israeli statements by Kushner on Norman Finkelstein’s website.
With Jeffery Wiesenfeld on the CUNY Board of Trustees, CUNY seems to be providing sanctuary for yet another opponent of multicultural education who seems unafraid to make inflammatory statements against certain minority groups to achieve his radical ends.
In his first confirmation hearing for CUNY Board, State Senator Daniel Hevesi questioned Wiesenfeld sharply about these reports, including allegations from Community Advocate Isaac Abraham that he had called blacks “savages.” As Hevesi remarked, “I don’t know what to believe, but if someone calls blacks ‘savages’ they have no business being on the CUNY Board of Trustees.”
Even though Hevesi went on to say, “I know this nominee does not have the character to sit on the CUNY Board,” Jeffrey Wiesenfeld was confirmed by the full State Senate in June, 1999, and then re-appointed by Pataki in a last minute “emergency” meeting of the state senate, just before the end of Pataki’s term on December 13th, 2006.
Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angels in America whose latest play is currently in previews at the Public, has responded to the decision in a scathing letter published in The Jewish Week. It begins thusly:
To Chairperson Benno Schmidt and the Board of Trustees:
At the May 2 public meeting of the CUNY Board of Trustees, which was broadcast on CUNY television and radio, Trustee Jeffrey S. Weisenfeld delivered a grotesque caricature of my political beliefs regarding the state of Israel, concocted out of three carefully cropped, contextless quotes taken from interviews I’ve given, the mention of my name on the blog of someone with whom I have no connection whatsoever, and the fact that I serve on the advisory board of a political organization with which Mr. Weisenfeld strongly disagrees. As far as I’m able to conclude from the podcast of this meeting, Mr. Weisenfeld spoke for about four minutes, the first half of which was a devoted to a recounting of the politics of former President of Ireland and UN Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson that was as false as his description of mine.
Ms. Robinson, however, was not on public trial; I was, apparently, and at the conclusion of Mr. Weisenfeld’s vicious attack on me, eight members voted to approve all the honorary degree candidates, including me, and four voted to oppose the slate if my name remained on it. Lacking the requisite nine votes to approve the entire slate, the Board, in what sounds on the podcast like a scramble to dispense with the whole business, tabled my nomination, approved the other candidates, and adjourned. Not a word was spoken in my defense.
For his part, Wiesenfield said of the decision: “Boycotters can also be boycotted.”