Let it not be said that we Jews don’t have the same types of bilious and vengeful folk who are also known to frequent the evangelical movement. The James Dobsons and Pat Robertsons of the Jewish world are channeled by Mort Klein, eternal president of the Zionist Organization of America. Klein firmly believes that any Jew who criticizes Israel is anti-Semitic. And so, his attack against Brandeis University for awarding an honorary doctorate to Tony Kushner. Kushner’s sin? Previous statements he’s made about Israel which Klein deems beyond the pale. Here’s how The Forward characterizes the brouhaha:
Klein and his group, the Zionist Organization of America, are waging a campaign to get the university to reverse its decision to grant an honorary degree to Kushner, author of the Tony Award-winning “Angels in America.” The ZOA, which claims Brandeis as a past honorary president and has named its top award after him, is circulating a collection of quotes from Kushner in an effort to make its case.
Kushner, co-author of Steven Spielberg’s screenplay for “Munich,” came under fire last year from some in the Jewish world who felt that the film drew a moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorists and Mossad assassins.
“It is outrageous that such a pro-Israel university — named after one of the greatest Zionists of the 20th century — would consider giving an award to such a vocal critic of Israel,” Klein told the Forward. “It’s as if Howard University chose to honor David Duke.”
The ZOA quotes Kushner as saying Israel was founded amid “ethnic cleansing” and that the creation of the Jewish state was “a mistake.” In speaking with the Forward this week, Kushner did not deny his earlier comments. However, he said that extremists” who would wish to “excommunicate” him for his stance toward Israel were taking him out of context.
Kushner portrayed the controversy as an attempt to marginalize those Jews who speak out against Israeli policies. “The biggest lie that is being promulgated is that I represent a tiny fringe viewpoint,” Kushner told the Forward. “But in my doubts and reservations and anguish about the situation in the Middle East, I am but one of an enormous number in the Jewish community.”
Mort Klein is a spewer of hate. Hate for some of his fellow Jews who question Israeli policy. And certainly hate for Muslims, and even moreso Palestinians who inconveniently interpose themselves between Israel and its dream of territorial dominance of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan (or to some–the Nile and the Euphrates). Klein’s clairvoyant claim to know the views of a long-dead American Jewish jurist (Justice Brandeis) in this matter are ludicrous. As Kushner says, Brandeis originally made a name for himself as the lawyer who took on the cause of sweatshop labor in the wake of the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The beloved Brandeis understood the plight of the oppressed and worked tirelessly to ameliorate such societal injustice. I have little doubt were he alive today that he would support Tony Kushner’s call for a two-state solution. Louis Brandeis, were he alive, would no more fraternize with Mort Klein than Abe Lincoln would sit down for a beer with Pat Robertson.
Now, Charles Jacob, another Jewish demagogue who runs the David Project, infamous for raking Columbia Mideast Studies faculty over the coals for their alleged anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism, enters the fray:
“At a time when the Jewish people around the world are being defamed through attacks on Israel, this is no time for a Jewish institution to honor someone who is placing world Jewry in peril.”
So far, I’m pleased to say that Brandeis hasn’t budged from its position supporting Kushner and its award of the honorary degree to him.
Should anyone want to know what Kushner really feels about Israel, Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they have only to read this letter he wrote to Brandeis president, Yehuda Reinharz, about the controversy:
I love Israel, but as a great fan of pluralist secular democracy, I don’t have faith in nationalist or tribalist solutions for the problems of oppressed and persecuted minorities; I have great faith…in a steadfast, absolute refusal to conflate government with religious principle or ethnic identity. I love Israel, but I am neither a Zionist nor an anti-Zionist; I’m a Diasporan Jew who isn’t willing to say that the history and culture of the Diaspora was merely a long prelude of weakness and misery leading to the founding of a Jewish state and the invention of Jewish military power – I think there are other kinds of power, there’s an alternative history of power to which Jews have made important contributions. Though I think nationalist solutions to the problems of oppressed minorities are usually mistakes, I love Israel, I am moved and excited by its culture, its meaning in Jewish history, but I’m critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people, I’m opposed to the occupation, the settlements, the barrier wall, and attacks on civilians, whether the civilians are Palestinian or Israeli. I love and admire the Palestinians but I believe that in the midst of their suffering some Palestinians have made their own terrible mistakes. I tend to believe that people make mistakes because of their suffering rather than some inherent evil. Threading through all of this error and anger, on the Israeli and Palestinian sides, I see histories of persecution, injustice and suffering in collision. Though I don’t believe in nationalist solutions to the problems of minorities, I want a two-state solution to the crisis in the middle east through courageous, honest peace talks supported by the international community…
In every interview and essay on the subject I’ve declared that Israel’s existence must be defended, its borders secure and its people safe. I believe that by criticizing a country’s policies you strengthen rather than weaken it, and in patriotism as in human relationships, uncritical adoration is idolatry, not love. And idolatry is forbidden by the Second Commandment.
As Kushner says, these are complicated thoughts not conducive to being understood in sound bites. Mort Klein thinks and talks in sound bites. Most demagogues do. But we shouldn’t be fooled by the outrageous slurs flung by the Klein crowd. Tony Kushner deserves his honorary doctorate and I applaud Brandeis for awarding it to him. Here is President Reinharz’ explanation of why the University chose to honor Kushner:
Over the years, Brandeis has honored hundreds of men and women of distinction whose personal views, I am sure, span the full spectrum of political discourse, and the University applies no litmus test requiring honorary degree recipients to hold particular views on Israel or topics of current political debate.
Mr. Kushner is not being honored because he is a Jew, and he is not being honored for his political opinions. Brandeis is honoring him for his extraordinary achievements as one of this generation’s foremost playwrights, whose work is recognized in the arts and also addresses Brandeis’s commitment to social justice.
To read an entirely wrong-headed critique of Brandeis’ decision to award the degree to Kushner, see Eugene Volokh‘s blog. One of the points he takes issues with is Reinharz’ contention that the award was appropriate because of the University’s and Kushner’s commitment to “social justice.”
I’ve been appalled for some time that Brandeis…now includes a “commitment to social justice” in its mission statement. When I was a student there, its much more appropriate motto was (and probably still officially is) “truth even unto its innermost parts.” But a precommitment to some particular notion of “social justice” [update: itself an ideologically charged term; why not just "justice"?] can obviously interfere with the pursuit of truth, and a university’s mission should be the pursuit of truth, not furtherance of ideology.
Some mighty dry casuistry if you ask me. And since when is the pursuit of social justice “furtherance of ideology?” Only in the small-minded world of Eugene Volokh who, I’m sorry to say is a graduate of that august institution.