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.

Fern Sidman said...



It has been announced that Brandies University in Waltham, Mass will bestow an honorary doctorate degree to anti-Israel playwright, Tony Kushner at its 55th commencement ceremony on May 21st 2006.

According to the Brandeis University web site, "Tony Kushner, one of the most highly acclaimed playwrights of his generation, is being honored for his many literary accomplishments in drama. His early 1990s epic “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes” was groundbreaking for its provocative, witty portrayal of politics, sex and religion in the United States at the end of the second millennium. It earned him the Pulitzer Prize for drama, two Tony Awards and two Drama Desk Awards, among many other honors. More recently, he wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” which earned five Academy Award nominations this year, including for best picture and best adapted screenplay. Kushner has also written “Caroline, or Change,” “Homebody/Kabul” and “Hydrotaphia,” as well as other plays and adaptations. Additionally, Kushner has written a short play, “But the Giraffe, a Curtain Raiser to Hans Krasa’s ‘Brundibar,’” as part of his collaboration on “Brundibar” with Maurice Sendak that opens in New Victory Theater in New York April 28th."

According to a press release issued by the Zionist Organization of America in New York, Kushner's long record of anti-Israel sentiment is clear. "Kushner has also made numerous egregious statements viciously condemning Israel and decrying its very existence. He called Israel’s founding "a mistake,” saying “it would have been better if Israel never happened” He also condemned Israel for “ethnic cleansing” and behaving abominably and denounced, ‘the shame of American Jews for failing to denounce Israel.” He called American Jews who support Israel “repulsive,” and Israel a “disgrace.”

Kushner also “deplored the brutal and illegal tactics of the IDF” and “the deliberate destruction of Palestinian culture and a systematic attempt to destroy the identity of the Palestinian people.” He is also on the board of an organization that opposes the security fence, a unified Jerusalem, or military aid to Israel, recommends Norman Finkelstein’s notorious anti-Israel, anti-Jewish books.

Tony Kushner’s recent screenplay of the movie Munich was widely condemned by numerous critics as being grossly inaccurate in ways that were hostile to Israel and inappropriately sympathetic to Palestinian terrorists. The critics include the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens: Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz; Columbia Professor and author Samuel Friedman (Jerusalem Post): the New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier: movie critic and social analyst Michael Medved: former U.S. Holocaust Museum Director Dr. Walter Reich (Washington Post): the New York Times’ Edward Rothstein: Commentary’s Gabe Schoenfeld; Charles Krauthaumer: Variety Magazine and MTV’s Kurt Yoder The anti-media bias organization CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), for example, stated that in Munich, “Kushner repeatedly blamed Israel for supposed ‘ethnic cleaning’ and ‘dispossession’ of Palestinian’s casting the alleged action of denying Palestinians a homeland as the root fo the Arab-Israeli conflict, while disregarding the reality of the Arab world’s rejection of a non-Arab, non-Muslim Jewish homeland in its midst and Israel’s repeated peace overtures.” Only this week on the Charlie Rose Show, Ephraim Halevy, former Director of Mossad, the Israeli secret service, said that Tony Kushner’s screenplay of the movie Munich “had no relation to the truth or the facts.”

It has also been reported that "Kushner sits on the Board of Advisors of the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which advocates divestment and boycott campaigns against Israel. His name appears on JVP letterhead, including on a letter saluting]” the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) for its move toward divesting from companies that do business with Israel. The letter posted on the JVP Web site not only applauds selective divestment focused on particular companies as proposed by the Presbyterians but says “we absolutely reject the accusation that general divestment or boycott campaigns are inherently anti-Semitic.” It should be noted that often news stories referring to JVP’s involvement in anti-Israel activity makes special mention of Tony Kushner as a member of the Board of Advisors.

Kushner, an ardent anti-Zionist, once said that “the founding of the State of Israel was for the Jewish people a historical, moral, and political calamity.”

The interesting thing, though, is Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz's response to the controversy:

Brandeis bestows honorary degrees as a means of acknowledging the outstanding accomplishments or contributions of individual men and women in any of a number of fields of human endeavor. Just as Brandeis does not inquire into the political opinions and beliefs of faculty or staff before appointing them, or students before offering admission, so too the University does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions.

Over the years, Brandeis has honored hundreds of men and women of distinction whose personal views, I am sure, span the full spectrum of political discourse, and the University applies no litmus test requiring honorary degree recipients to hold particular views on Israel or topics of current political debate.

Mr. Kushner is not being honored because he is a Jew, and he is not being honored for his political opinions. Brandeis is honoring him for his extraordinary achievements as one of this generation's foremost playwrights, whose work is recognized in the arts and also addresses Brandeis's commitment to social justice.

It is clear that the decision to grant an honorary degree to Tony Kushner by America's “only non-sectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university,” which is named after the great American Zionist and Jurist, Justice Louis D. Brandeis is indeed a reprehensible and appalling one. Brandeis University has been an infamous bastion of Jewish liberalism and self hate since its inception.

The decision to publicly recognize and honor an anti-semite does not further the "lofty" goal of social justice as those on the Brandeis board of directors would have us believe. This egregious decision can only assist in bolstering and encouraging the burgeoning anti-Israel movement that is sweeping college campuses all across the USA.

Perhaps Jewish donors to Brandeis will re-think their decision to provide financial support to this Jewish "self-hating" institution of higher learning.

As we know, there is no difference between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism. While it is politically correct and palatable for haters of Jews to claim they are "anti-Zionist" but not "anti-semitic, we know that this is nothing more than a simplistic semantical argument. How easy it is for Jew haters to cloak their venom and vitriol towards Jews under the "innocuous" label of "anti-Zionism", yet we who know the truth see it very clearly.

While Iranian President Ahmadnajed calls Israel "a Nazi regime", we all know that he is calling all Jews "Nazis" and the most horrifying aspect to this is that the world remains silent. His vituperative is embraced by many willing "progressive" Jews who provide support and succor to his demonic views by echoing their own version of anti-Israel lies and propaganda.

We can no longer remain in denial. Jew hatred, on a global level is at an all time high and increasing with every passing moment. An apocalyptic catastrophe for Jews is not outside the realm of possibility. It is up to every Jew who possesses even a modicum of self pride to speak out against this outrage and to vocalize their indignation at the administration of Brandeis University and to all self hating Jews who aide and abet the Jew haters of the world.

Could it be that our destruction and demise will lay within ourselves?

Let us beseech the G-d of Israel for mercy and compassion at this critical juncture of Jewish history. Let us gird our loins and prepare to defend our faith. Let us gain the resolve and strength to walk in the ways of Hasher and to follow His commandments. For in the end, we must not fear the Jew hater, whether he is Jewish or not.

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:

Fern Sidman said...

Dear Playgoer,

In the interest of free speech, I wish to thank you for including my comments on the Kushner-Brandeis issue. I also appreciate you thanking me for identifying myself. I never use pseudonyms or nom de plumes when expressing my views. Rest assured that Brandeis University will NOT have to have extra security because of my views.

Mr. Kushner is certainly entitled to his views on Israel. I cherish his right to free speech as I do anyone else's. He can hate Israel all he wants. I'm sure he's in good company. I wouldn't even care if he joined Hamas. The issue I have is that he is being honored by Brandeis, which is ostensibly a non-sectarian, Jewish sponsored university named after a great American zionist leader who was a stalwart support of the creation of the State of Israel.

As far as attempting to paint the JDL as a bunch of terrorists who are on trial for a bomb plot, you should know that the two people mentioned in the CBS article that you Googled are now dead. They were both murdered in prison, under highly suspicious circumstances, before their trial, before appearing before any judge or jury and before the due process which every individual is entitled to.

Free speech? First amendment? Seems like that only applies to people that the ACLU deems worthy to represent, and that does not include anyone whose views are not left wing or anti-American. I can guarantee you that if two Muslims were jailed on suspicion of terrorist activities and they suddenly "died" in prison without a trial, that issue would be on page one of every major paper.

freespeechlover said...

Hat tip, again, playgoer for your research skills.