The Playgoer: first "Corrie" now Kushner?

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

first "Corrie" now Kushner?

Some grumbling today over at Brandeis University over the decision to confer on honorary degree on Tony Kushner. The board is being lobbied against it by the "Zionist Organization of America." Who knows, maybe the board finally caught up with Munich on Netflix? Or, more likely, caught up with the anti-Munich propaganda...

The story has been apparently leaked to the Likud-friendly New York Sun. The article is behind subscription firewall, but available via Google news in full.

As a shortcut here are some highlights:

Mr. Kushner, who has called the founding of Israel a "mistake," and has accused the Jewish state of "behaving abominably towards the Palestinian people," is among seven people who are slated to receive honorary doctorates from the Waltham, Mass.- based university, which has Jewish roots but is nonsectarian...

The Zionist Organization of America is calling on Brandeis to reconsider its decision to honor Mr. Kushner. "A Jewish-oriented college should not be giving respectability and legitimacy to someone who has been such a hostile critic of Israel," the president of ZOA, Morton Klein, said...

Yesterday Mr. Kushner did not deny any of his earlier comments about Israel, including one in which he said Israel was founded amid "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinian Arabs. But, in a phone interview with The New York Sun, he said past statements have been taken out of context by groups using "McCarthyite" tactics to portray him as an extremist. Mr. Kushner said he is opposed to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and to the route of Israel's security barrier, which snakes through portions of the West Bank...

Robert Rifkind, a New York lawyer who serves on the Brandeis board of trustees, said he had not known of Mr. Kushner's stance on Israel. Mr. Rifkind did not know if members of the trustee committee selecting honorary degree recipients were aware of Mr. Kushner's views on Israel.

"It's not easy what the answer would have been had it come up," he said. "All I can tell you is that I and most of the members of the board whose views I'm aware of are lifelong committed Zionists"...

Hey, if your group is actually called the "Zionist Organization of America" then obviously its your mission to protest anyone like Kushner who is critical of Israel. But that doesn't mean Brandeis has to cave. The board's defense, as you can see, is that they named him before "Munich" came out and they only considered Kushner as an artist, not an activist.

But to not know Kushner as an activist is hardly to know him as an artist at all, is it?

While this blog was hard on Kushner for not speaking out for "Rachel Corrie" early, I can appreciate now that he did do so. And that he now finds himself in all too similar a position. I expect he will continue to speak in defense of himself as well as all other artists and plays facing similar political intimidation.

(And no, this is not about his right to get a stupid honorary degree...)

PS. Brandeis has a fine and prestigious drama department, by the way. I wonder if they'll rally behind Tony.

PPS. Here's Brandeis' official release on the honorary degrees, from April 20. Kushner's citation does indeed include "Munich."


Anonymous said...

What do you mean FIRST Corrie???? The NYTW cancellation/postponement is only the most recent of a very long line of cancelled/censored/threatened arts or intellectual events (or people) that aren't deemed sufficiently Zionist. Kushner has been in these cross-hairs many a time (pre-Munich because of his anthology on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and because of his speaking out on many occasions.) Have some sense of history.

Playgoer said...

Apologies for my loosely meant word choice and poetic license in the subject heading. I did not mean first EVER.

Now was I born yesterday.

Playgoer said...

Follow up on this story from Alisa Solomon at tonight's NYTW panel.

He maintains (in a conversation with her) that Brandeis is "standing by him" and will not revoke their honorary degree or bar him from graduation.

As I suspected, she also confirmed that Zionist Organization of America is essentially a one-man-band.