New York City’s incendiary Jewish politics just heated up to the boiling point again. Those who’ve read this blog for a while, will recall a nasty bunch called Stop the Madrassa which disseminated vile smears of Debbie Almontaser and the Khalil Gibran Academy, which was to be the first Arab-language public school in New York. This is my own progressive version of David Horowitz’s Discover the Networks: the two main leaders of the anti-Arab group were Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a right-wing Republican operative with the Pataki political machine and David Yerushalmi, the guy whose views are so right-wing that Mother Jones, the Forward, and I have all called him various versions of a Jewish white supremacist.
Well, Wiesenfeld has just struck again. He’s a CUNY trustee, no doubt appointed to the job during George Pataki’s governorship (gee, aren’t ya glad he’s not there to kick around any more?). If you look at his picture, he looks more like Tony Soprano in a suit than a college trustee.
When the political hatchet man discovered that John Jay College planned to bestow an honorary doctorate on one of America’s greatest living playwrights, he broke out the poison and single-handedly torpedoed the degree ceremony. After the lies and vitriol he spilled about Kushner, only 7 of the 9 needed trustees would support the motion and Kushner’s degree was killed.
As a result, CUNY now looks like a political battlefield and stifler of free speech, instead of one of the biggest and best urban university systems in the nation. Students and faculty are rightfully enraged. Never before in CUNY’s history has an individual campus’ honorary degree candidate been axed.
Here are some of the things Wieselfeld dredged up. Note, he was too lazy even to read a book like Wrestling With Zion, which Kushner co-edited. Instead, he used the sleazy research tactic of ferreting out information from a second-hand source. Imagine, this is a trustee of New York City’s higher education authority and he can’t even portray someone’s ideas accurately:
Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, objected to John Jay College’s submission of Mr. Kushner for an honorary degree. Mr. Wiesenfeld described viewpoints and comments, which he ascribed to Mr. Kushner, that he had found on the Web site of Norman Finkelstein, a political scientist and critic of Israel.
Mr. Wiesenfeld, an investment adviser and onetime aide to former Gov. George E. Pataki and former Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, said that Mr. Kushner had tied the founding of Israel to a policy of ethnic cleansing, criticized the Israel Defense Forces and supported a boycott of Israel.
“I think it’s up to all of us to look at fairness and consider these things,” Mr. Wiesenfeld 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.”
Kushner, in his defense, notes that even many Israeli historians call the Nakba a clear case of “ethnic cleansing.” And last I checked there was nothing unpatriotic about criticizing the IDF and I can’t believe that CUNY has regulations prohibiting the awarding of honorary degrees to playwrights who criticize Israel’s army. Oh, and among Kushner’s other sins is that he’s on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace. Imagine that: making common cause with Israel’s delegitimzers! I’ve got news for Wiesenfeld–the only person delegitimzing Israel is him. Who can think of Israel as entirely legitimate when it has hatchet men like the Big Guy doing its bidding?
Here is an excerpt from Kushner’s message to the CUNY board in which he explains his views on the subject:
I won’t enter into arguments about Israeli policy towards the Palestinian people since 1948, about the security fence or the conduct of the IDF, except to say that my feelings and opinions – my outrage, my grief, my terror, my moments of despair – regarding the ongoing horror in the middle east, the brunt of which has been born by the Palestinian people, but which has also cost Israelis dearly and which endangers their existence, are shared by many Jews, in Israel, in the US and around the world. My despair is kept in check by my ongoing belief in, and commitment to a negotiated conclusion to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis…
Kushner also says that he does not support a boycott of Israel. So there you have it. You have a CUNY trustee who’s a flagrant liar, Islamophobe, and left-baiter.
Here is a partial list of the esteemed playwright’s honors:
“Recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, an Emmy Award, two Tony Awards, three Obie Awards, an Oscar nomination, an Arts Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the PEN/Laura Pels Award for a Mid-Career Playwright, a Spirit of Justice Award from the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, and a Cultural Achievement Award from The National Foundation for Jewish Culture…
How many such honors does Wiesenfeld have? The NY Daily News gave him the Knucklehead of the Year Award. But I gather that’s not the kind the Big Guy would prefer us to be linked to.
Andrew Cuomo, you’ve got a problem. If Wiesenfeld was Pataki’s appointee I’d say you have some sway over him since you’re now the governor. Better get that dog to heel before he rips somebody else’s guts out.
Read Kushner’s letter to the CUNY board. I find it both shocking and disgusting that Dr. Benno Schmidt, a former president of Yale, is the chair of CUNY’s board of trustees and thus bears at least partial responsibility for this fiasco. Is this the way you did things when you were in New Haven, Prof. Schmidt?
- CUNY trustees dishonor academic freedom in Tony Kushner snub (muzzlewatch.com)
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.