Tony Kushner’s Honorary Degree from CUNY Canceled Over Alleged Anti-Israel Remarks

05/05/2011 9:50 AM |

Tony Kushner will leave commencement empty-handed.

  • Tony Kushner will leave commencement empty-handed.

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.

You may remember Wiesenfeld for his involvement in this Brooklyn College fiasco, and this profile from the CUNY grad student paper offers a pretty damning portrait of the conservative activist:

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.”

6 Comment

  • It is appalling and disheartening that certain American Jews, members of the group disproportionally harmed by McCarthyism in the Fifties, are apparently reinstating it selectively in the twenty-tens. That the Trustees would support this represensible action is a disgrace for The City University of New York. John B. Haney. Professor Emeritus, Queens

  • Alleged? He has repeatedly said it is better if Israel did not exist. How much more “anti” can you get?…

  • So what David? He says the truth and he should be punished for it by an institution that supposed to represent education? I must say what kind of BIASED education does this institution represent, not to mention so many other institutions in America. As soon as u take the side of the oppressed, this is how they start treating u.

  • Tony Kushner has said, the creation of Israel was a mistake, an act of ethnic cleansing. He sided with the Palestinians during the 2nd intifada and rejected the claim that Israelis had a right to defend themselves against indiscriminate attacks that were killing hundreds. He belongs to the anti-Zionist, Jewish Voices for Peace, an organization that urges the boycott, divestiture and isolation of Israel. He edited the 2003 book, Wrestling With Zion, which contains essays equating Israel morally with Palestinian terrorists and decrying the Law of Return.

    Kushner has a right to his views. But he has no right to demand that a school whose trustees and faculty largely disagree with him, grant him an honorary degree.

  • Tony Kushner got hit by the Israeli

  • What to do you think it means when you say a state should cease to exist? It means it has to be destroyed, over the opposition of its citizens. So when Mr. Kushner and the likes of Mr. Ibrahim state that Israel should cease to exist, what they really saying in their politically correct code words is that the Israelis should be killed or deported. Imagine if someone said that about other ethnic groups, they would rightly be shunned for advocating genocide. Why is it that everyone else has a right to national self determination, including people who no one had heard about 100 years ago, but the Jewish people who have longed to return to their homeland for the past 2000 years are the only ones where it is politically correct for the left to deny their right to self determination and call for the destruction of their national homeland?