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Posted in: Israel, Arts, Film & Culture

Published on May 06, 2011 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for NewsRealBlog

Communist University of NY (CUNY) Denies Honor to Israel-Bashing Playwright Tony Kushner


Incredibly, miraculously, my old university, where once I labored for nearly thirty years, has just snatched back an honor from one of the Left's most beloved sons. This is really quite a Big Deal.

I am talking about the City University of New York (CUNY) aka the Communist University of New York, which has just decided to rescind its promised honorary degree to none other than playwright Tony Kushner. The Communist University of New York—alright, I exaggerate a bit, there are many exceptions, but my description is essentially true.

Here's the thing I hate most about "hate speech."

It is this: When those who engage in it view themselves—and are also viewed—as glamorized victims, brave non-conformists, public sacrifices of the "Zionist Lobby" or the "Military Industrial Complex."

Once, I moved in circles in which Kushner was, as yet, unknown; circles that swiftly grew to adore him as his star rose. These were the kind of leftists (there are no other kind) who love Broadway and Hollywood celebrities. They especially love all the Jewish theatre people who stand against Israel on nothing other than their own naked ignorance. If a playwright is not known to be properly anti-Israel, his or her work will not be produced. It is as simple as that.

To be sure: mourning all the dead Jews murdered in the European Holocaust remains a theatrical favorite but only as long as the somber themes include happy little touches (think about the misuse of Anne Frank) or when the destruction of the Jews is universalized by bringing in every other genocide to prove that there was nothing unique about the Shoah, and that Jews will not mourn other Jews only, that Jews will mourn all victims equally.

However, when one of these anointed Broadway and Hollywood darlings, like Kushner, is actually called on his brand of anti-Semitism, something which happens very rarely, the celebrity who is used to naught but praise, is shocked–shocked!–and righteously, mightily, offended.

Indeed, Kushner was so shocked that he wrote a three page letter to the CUNY Trustees accusing them of "defaming" him by deciding not to award him an honorary degree. In the letter, Kushner insists that his view that Israel engaged in the "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians in order to create a Jewish state is not an anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic view. He also claims that the "brunt" of the "ongoing horror in the Middle East" has been "borne by the Palestinian people."

And then Kushner trots out his credentials, which include his proud board membership in Jewish Voice for Peace, a radically left anti-Zionist organization which supports the effort to boycott, divest from, and isolate Israel (BDS). He also notes that he "has a long and happy affiliation with such organizations as the 92nd St Y, The Jewish Museum and the Upper West Side JCC."

I remember when Kushner's anti-Zionist anthology, which he co-edited with Alisa Solomon, first came out in 2003. I knew many of his contributors. They include profoundly anti-Zionist Jews such as Henry Siegman, Chris Hedges (about Siegman), Naomi Klein (about Rachel Corrie), Blanche Wiesen Cook (who was or still is associated with John Jay College/the CUNY Graduate Center—the college which nominated Kushner for the honorary degree), Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Daniel Boyarin, Ella Habiba Shohat, Judith Butler, Marge Piercy, Susan Sontag, etc.

I was not invited to contribute anything to this volume (there is a God after all!), which came out in 2003, the same year I published my book about the new anti-Semitism. I may have been the first to write that anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism and that the alliance of the leftist politically correct western intelligentsia, including feminists and gay liberationists, with Jew-hating Islamists was upon us and that a second Shoah was indeed possible.

However, Kushner and Solomon were semi-clever. They reprinted historical documents and articles by Judah Magnes, Ahad Ha'am, Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, and I.F. Stone, which questioned the nature of a Jewish state or of a religiously affiliated state. The editors also printed a handful of articles that were slightly friendlier to the Jewish state which, as I recall, was at the time under the most profound siege.

I remember underlining a good deal. I was going to review it but chose not to do so. Frankly, the volume sickened me. I was heartbroken that so many educated and influential Jews were so happy, felt so righteous about attacking the Jewish state, and in the name of Jewish ethics. If Kushner prefers a separation of religion and state as more conducive to democracy, as he claims, I might agree with him; however, I would start with criticizing Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, and Afghanistan before tackling Israel with single-minded scapegoating fury.

I once labored at the City University of New York (CUNY). I am amazed but thrilled that enough (five) members on their twelve member Board of Trustees actually viewed Kushner's views on Israel as "racist."

I once taught a graduate course at the very branch of CUNY which proposed Kushner. Once, I was friendly with some of the professorial union thugs who literally occupy positions to the left of Stalin.

Yes, many are gay, many are feminists. Some are also homophobic and sexist. Life is complicated over there at Communist U because I am describing the same people as well as their opponents.

God bless CUNY Trustee Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, who was the first to speak against Kushner. He said that Kushner had tied the founding of the state of Israel to a policy of "ethnic cleansing." He was surprised that he got the votes necessary to knock Kushner's honorary degree off the table.

In his defense, Kushner claimed that his views were shared by many Jews. That's like saying that many American Jews did not effectively concern themselves with what was happening to Europe's Jews during the Holocaust. That's like saying that many German Jews preferred Germany to Judaism.

Today, naturally, the New York Times published their second article on this brouhaha. This time, they tried to challenge Wiesenfeld's political past, especially the fact that he had been appointed by a Republican Governor (George Pataki). Wiesenfeld is described as a "political fixer" and as at "the center of a scandal (having to do with paroles and for which) he was never charged."

Why don't they deal with the issues rather than attempt to tarnish the reputation of the heroic Jeffrey Wiesenfeld? I guess they can't since their views of Israel are the same as Tony Kushner's.

Still, I wonder: Has the Gray Lady ever described Rahm Emanuel, the new mayor of Chicago, as a "political fixer?" Or Ted Kennedy as the "drunken and cowardly murderer" of Mary Jo Kopechne? Just asking.

Trust me. We have not heard the last of this. While Kushner has now vowed never to accept this award, his supporters, admirers, those for whom "he died on the cross of celebrity," will never quit trying to resurrect his reputation and to destroy those who opposed his candidacy. Kushner may be persuaded to launch a lawsuit in order to further dignify and legalize his brand of anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism.

Hamas and Fatah, arch-fiend murderers of their own people, have just joined forces to demand the "right of return" which will, essentially, destroy the Jewish nature of the state and, shortly thereafter (God forbid!), the living Jews of Israel as well. Their hope will be to make Israel as "judenrein" as the rest of the Arab Muslim Middle East. Hamas-Fatah-the-Egyptian-Muslim-Brotherhood also want Jerusalem as their capital. Hamas is busy veiling their women and looking the other way when women are beaten and honor-murdered. They themselves are torturing and murdering Palestinian homosexuals.

Kushner and his supporters are cheering them on.

C'mon Tony: Consider writing a play about the Palestinians who are suffering because of their radically Islamic leaders. Do it because it's true and right, do it as a form of atonement. My brother: You do not know what you are doing.


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