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Posted in: Israel, Arts, Film & Culture, Academic Freedom

Published on May 16, 2011 by Phyllis Chesler

Published by NewsRealBlog

SPME to CUNY on Kushner's Honor: 'reverse this deeply uninformed decision'

I have just received news of an astounding and unexpected "first."

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, (SPME) a group which represents 55,000 scholars, researchers and students on 3,500 campuses across the world has just written to every Board of Trustee member at the City University of New York (CUNY) about the Kushner/Wiesenfeld cause célèbre. They are the first group of scholars to weigh in on another side—perhaps even on the "other" side. SPME is horrified by the way in which a private Board member's views became public so quickly and by how quickly the Trustees caved into the goon-squad tactics of the left intelligentsia and the media.

Playwright Tony Kushner, who mistakenly views Israel as "a mistake," and as involved in "ethnic cleansing," was immediately glorified as the victim both by the media and by the CUNY professoriate.

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the trustee who challenged the wisdom of giving Kushner yet another academic "seal of approval" for his views, was demonized personally in article after article, none of which addressed the issues he raised.

Shamefully, but predictably, not a single major group of academics or of other interested parties stood up for Wiesenfeld, who is also a member of the CUNY Trustee family or for the importance of intellectual diversity. The politically correct campus wants diversity in terms of gender, race, religion, and sexual preference. They do not want the feelings of formerly marginalized or pariah groups to be hurt, denigrated. Kushner's incorrectly describes Israel as having engaged in "ethnic cleansing." This further inflames the anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist masses.

I and others dare, rather plaintively, to suggest that the academy cultivate intellectual diversity as well. As we know, only one view of Israel is acceptable on an American campus. Israel is to be condemned. Anyone who thinks otherwise will find himself condemned just as quickly.

Wiesenfeld was raked over the coals. This week's Forward did so as did articles in the New York Times and the Manhattan Observer. The points Wiesenfeld raised were not addressed. His right to hold his view based on these points was not respected. Whatever "dirt" could be dug up about him was.

Oddly enough, except for my own column, no reporter noted that Kushner constantly writes about Soviet Russia and about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg—and that he was nominated by one of the Rosenberg's two sons, Michael Meeropol, who is currently teaching at John Jay. Also, no journalist noted that only one professor, Amy Greene, who co-nominated Kushner actually teaches theatre. The committee of seven who rubberstamped his nomination teach criminal justice, politics, government, political science, sociology, psychology, etc.

The John Jay committee voted for a celebrity whose honorary award will 'magnify and sanctify" their own political views about Israel.

But now, finally, a group has dared to stand up to be counted. .

Before this letter was released, those scholars who did not agree with the glamorization of Kushner as the victim and the demonization of Wiesenfeld as the bully kept silent as did the entire organized Jewish world.

This battle for the soul of the Western campus is part of the larger battle for western civilization which is currently under profound attack. Proponents of hate speech and Big Lies are demanding academic freedom and free speech rights while, at the same time, they are denying these same rights to anyone who tells the truth about Israel (if it happens to be positive), or about Islam (if it happens to be negative).

I am reprinting this letter in full here. I hope that other journalists and bloggers will print it and perhaps also interview the spokesmen for SPME: Board member Awi Fedegruen (af7@columbia.edu) and Director Dr. Sam Edelman (spmeexecdir@gmail.com).

Here is the text of the letter:

May 15, 2011

Board of Trustees
City University of New York
New York, NY

Dear Trustees: We members of the Board of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), a grass-roots organization representing 55,000 professors, researchers and students on 3500 campuses worldwide, would like to express our distress at the politicization of the university revealed by your selection of Tony Kushner for an honorary degree. 1. We are distressed that you have chosen to give your highest honor to someone who frequently makes incendiary and biased accusations against Israel, thereby feeding the fires of antisemitism, hatred, and genocide incitement now prevalent in the Middle East. By accepting this politicized nomination, you are also giving the CUNY stage to a celebrity advocate of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, through direct statements and through his role on the Board of "Jewish Voice for Peace." This is a position that all American universities have rejected.

2. We are further distressed that, based on political pressure from the press and a letter-writing campaign, your Executive Committee peremptorily overturned an earlier decision by your full Board to postpone Mr. Kushner's nomination for later discussion. Maintaining the board's initial decision would have demonstrated your dedication to inquiry into the many allegations and counter-allegations made about this matter. Sadly, your peremptory vote serves to suppress debate and symbolizes to students and the public that a distinguished university easily succumbs to political pressure.

3. We are concerned that you have collectively refused to come to the defense of your trustee, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, for exercising his fiduciary responsibility. Mr. Wiesenfeld has been vociferously insulted in public, with unsupported insinuations that he was involved in a political scandal and calls for his resignation — for no other reason than his judgment that a university should not honor those who espouse extremist views and advocate boycotts of democratic countries or their institutions. Your silence in the face of these extreme attacks on Mr. Wiesenfeld's character tragically gives evidence that you, representing a giant urban public university, are now susceptible to public intimidation.

4. We are further concerned at your acquiescence to accusations that a delay in approving Mr. Kushner's nomination represented an alleged violation of his freedom of speech or academic freedom. To receive an honorary degree is a rare privilege, not a right. To discuss it and consider implications for CUNY's role as an educational institution is your obligation. Some of your members' statements that Mr. Kushner has a right to get an award undermine your own role in making considered judgments about whom you wish to recognize as role models for students. By rejecting your earlier decision to table the nomination and put it up for discussion, you have, sadly, abrogated your responsibility. Most of all, we are distressed that you have now given a celebrity the stage through which political advocacy and flag waving will triumph over the tradition of critical thinking that is the university's highest calling. Please act immediately to reverse this deeply uninformed decision. Your reversal would send a signal of firmness in upholding open inquiry into Middle East affairs over politicization and street pressure.

Sincerely yours,
The Board of Directors of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

Contact: Sam Edelman, PhD
Awi Federgruen, DSc

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