The Playgoer: HERE'S Tony

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Thursday, May 04, 2006


The Tony Kushner-Brandeis tension seems to be resolved, in that he will indeed speak, despite isolated protests. He has released an open letter--eloquent, forthright, and, yes, of Kushneresque length--to the college's president in the lastest Forward.

Too bad he has to mount so vigorous a defense, but good that he does so, rather than back down or lay low.

Some highlights:

"I don't want to ruin anyone's graduation but on the other hand, the world's a big, scary mess, and there's no reason why graduation, which is when students leave academia and enter the world, ought to be stress-, dissent- or anger-free." [for academia, read theatre?]

"You haven't asked me to earn this degree by clearing my name or by doing a better job than I've done already articulating my opinions about Israel. It would be wrong to ask that of me, and foolish of me to agree to attempt it. I've already done my best in essays and lengthy interviews. I always try to do better, to advance my thinking and writing, not to defend it.
"If any among your students, faculty, parents or trustees decide that they disagree with what I have said about Israel, I hope first they'll take the time to read what I've said about Israel, read a whole complete word-for-word interview or essay from start to finish, read two or more of them, in fact, rather than a half-dozen tasty tidbits emailed to them by people looking only to provoke outrage."

"Those who have shopped through my interviews and essays looking for "proof¨ that I hate Jews, Israel, Zionism , have produced the single sheet of quotes you sent me. These have been passed around before, talismans of my wickedness."

"I've been willing to explain myself, not in defense or apology, but because I know that the world is not a safe place for Jews. Anti-Semitism is very real and very threatening, and we're all entitled -- wise in fact -- to be vigilant. So even though I think critical thinking is necessary, even in times of danger, I understand that my criticism of Israel raises alarms. I want to be understood -- not agreed with, but understood.
"In the past several months, since I wrote the screenplay for the film Munich, I've become exhaustively familiar with a small but energetic and strident group of people who have called me immoral, an anti-Semite, a self-loathing Jew. In the hysteria of their invective there's a discernible desire to establish an orthodoxy, dissension from which is heresy. I hope that the intellectual curiosity, skepticism and integrity of the Brandeis community will be proof against their tactics and their intentions, which are dishonorable and all too familiar.

"Brandeis teachers, trustees, alumni, students or their parents may still angrily disagree with me, even after giving me a fair hearing. I will arrive on campus at the time I was invited to arrive, confident in and appreciative of the Universitycommunity's adherence to the laudable norms of liberal arts institutions, which encompass and encourage vigorous, civil disagreement, which preclude only violence, the urge to punish, to silence, to excommunicate."

Again, we might substitute theatre for university here as well.

Once again, he asserts: "You haven't asked me to earn this degree by clearing my name or by doing a better job than I've done already articulating my opinions about Israel. It would be wrong to ask that of me, and foolish of me to agree to attempt it." Which I take to mean: no need to finesse, just put the words out there and let people respond as they will.


freespeechlover said...

okay, i'm in london, and i have to say the entire issue of speech rings very differently here. you're allowed to criticize the government robustly, satirically, and mockingly. you can criticize israeli policy without angst. people seem to be able to distinguish rationally between real anti-semitism and criticism of policy, double standards, etc. and no, it's not because london is bathing in anti-semitism. maybe it boils down to being smaller in size and thus having different sorts of social relations rather than depending on Fox news or cnn. bbcworld plays in the subway, and it's a cut above our 24 hr. news.

i just think people seem to have more confidence in what they know, and when they make a mistake, they apologize and move on. it's refreshing. and i can easily see why there could have been a clash in communication styles between the nytw and the brits.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, English libel laws are so preposterously skewed in favor of the complainant that that in itself becomes a different kind of curb on free speech. Things are tough all over.

Playgoer said...

The above comment provides a useful demonstration of exactly the kind of slander Kushner speaks of in his letter. I need only refer you to his words to refute and respond to some of these charges.

In the interest of free speech and debate, of course, I am happy to have such a comment included. And I thank Ms. Sidman for identifying herself, since a quick Google search provides some more context to her point of view:
"Fern Sidman holds a B.A, in political science from Brooklyn College. She was the educational coordinator for the Betar Youth Movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was national director of the Jewish Defense League from 1983-1985. She was a researcher for several books written by Rabbi Meir Kahane, ZTK"L. She was the managing editor of the publication entitled, The Voice of Judea, and is a regular contributor to it's web site. She is currently a writer and journalist living in New York City. Her articles have appeared in The Jewish Press, The Jewish Advocate, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, and numerous Jewish and general web sites including, Front Page Magazine, Daniel Pipes, Michael Freund, etc."

This bio can be found at:

If you know anything about the Jewish Defense League, then you will not be surprised by the above statement.

And I have no beef against the JDL expressing its opposition to Kushner. While the man is clearly NOT an anti-semite of any kind, he certainly has taken positions JDL lives to battle against.

But let's just say I hope Brandeis invests in some extra security for this year's graduation ceremony.

Playgoer said...

For an example of what I meant about JDL, see this:

freespeechlover said...

Hat tip, again, playgoer for your research skills.