The Playgoer: Kushner Dissed by CUNY

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Kushner Dissed by CUNY

Tony Kushner must be used to this by now.

Five years ago Brandeis University almost revoked their offer of an honorary degree to him. Now the board of the City University of New York (CUNY) has vetoed member college John Jay's similar plans to honor the playwright. Why?

The move took place at a meeting of CUNY's board of trustees Monday night after one of its members, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, raised objections to plans to honor Kushner by John Jay College, one of the system's schools.....Wiesenfeld, a board member of several Jewish organizations and an activist in conservative circles, spoke out against plans to honor Kushner, who, like others receiving honorary degrees, may have spoken at the graduation ceremony. Wiesenfeld cited what he believed were some of Kushner's anti-Israel statements, all of which he said he found on the website of Norman Finkelstein, another figure known for his vehemently anti-Israel views. When people identify themselves with "these types of viewpoints," Wiesenfeld told his fellow trustees, "it's up to all of us to look at fairness and consider these things," especially when Israel sits in such a hostile neighborhood.
Yes, "fairness." Right.

Who knew. Tony Kushner used to only be controversial when Angels in America would get banned here and there by Christian homophobes.  Now Israel-supporters call him a Jew-hater. (Or, worse, an implied self-hating Jew.)

By the way, Kushner is hardly Norman Finkelstein. When even Kushner perfectly civil and rational questioning of Likud party policy is ruled out of bounds for discourse on a college campus--on a New York City college campus!--then free speech really is threatened.

Almost makes me ashamed to be CUNY student. Yet, there's still time for other board members to come to their senses and for John Jay College to stand up to the bullying by one man intimidating the public university which he claims to "serve."

For more on Wiesenfeld, scroll down to his CUNY profile here.

By the way, he was also in the news lately supporting Glenn Beck against charges of anti-Semitism.  So Tony Kushner: out of bounds. Glenn Beck: fine.  Glad we got that straight.

And here's even more disturbing background on who this man is and how he got on the board, from the CUNY student paper:
With Jef­fery Wiesen­feld on the CUNY Board of Trustees, CUNY seems to be pro­vid­ing sanc­tu­ary for yet another oppo­nent of mul­ti­cul­tural edu­ca­tion who seems unafraid to make inflam­ma­tory state­ments against cer­tain minor­ity groups to achieve his rad­i­cal ends. In his first con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing for CUNY Board, State Sen­a­tor Daniel Hevesi ques­tioned Wiesen­feld sharply about these reports, includ­ing alle­ga­tions from Com­mu­nity Advo­cate Isaac Abra­ham that he had called blacks “sav­ages.” As Hevesi remarked, “I don’t know what to believe, but if some­one calls blacks ‘sav­ages’ they have no busi­ness being on the CUNY Board of Trustees.”
Even though Hevesi went on to say, “I know this nom­i­nee does not have the char­ac­ter to sit on the CUNY Board,” Jef­frey Wiesen­feld was con­firmed by the full State Sen­ate in June, 1999, and then re-appointed by Pataki in a last minute “emer­gency” meet­ing of the state sen­ate, just before the end of Pataki’s term on Decem­ber 13th, 2006. For more on this see “Pataki Appoints Two Trustees in Last Minute Sen­ate Meet­ing” in the Feb­ru­ary, 2007 edi­tion of the GC Advocate.
Other highlights include "base­less charges that a new dual lan­guage Ara­bic Eng­lish pub­lic school, the Kahlil Gibran Inter­na­tional Acad­emy, would inevitably become a haven for ter­ror­ists and was already a rad­i­cal 'Madrassa' reli­gious school."

So much for "fairness."


Tom Shea said...

This guy Wiesenthal sounds like a clown/loudmouth/attention whore, but I don't think that denying Tony Kushner an honorary degree equates to censorship. Kushner is a wildly successful playwright and screenwriter. His microphone is plenty big if he wants to scream about this, and more power to him if and when he does. I'd be more upset if CUNY's board had slapped down a playwriting student's first work or first reading for having questionable views. THAT'S censorship.

CGS said...

I don't think the issue is about censoring Kushner as much as it is about a disturbing trend of intellectual intimidation at CUNY. CUNY board members and trustees are bullying faculty and other members of the CUNY community, using their positions of power to silence dissenting opinions without permitting free and fair discussion of ideas. This is an abuse of power, and it goes against everything an academic institution like CUNY is supposed to represent.

Anonymous said...

This did not happen in a bubble. If you look on the front page of the Jewish Week, another big story rocking the American Jewish community right now is the right wing's attempt to demonize/marginalize Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who has been appointed to head the Reform movement because of his support for J Street and New Israel Fund. (Unlike Kushner, Jacobs is unabashedly pro-Israel but has criticized the settlement policy of the Netanyahu government.) Recently, another right wing ideologue attacked the JCC in NYC for the "Other Israel" film festival and a synagogue in Massachusetts rescinded an invitation to J Street head Jeremy Ben Ami to speak there after pressure from members. The theme is that only the most unquestioning loyalty to Israel and the policies of its governments will be allowed. I am ashamed that someone like Benno Schmidt allowed himself and other board members to be pressured by someone like Wiesenfeld who is obviously a wealthy political hack.

Ken said...

Weisenfeld seems like a bullying creep, desperate for attention and control. I'm sure he thinks he's striking a righteous blow against the Left by denying Kushner this honor. Never mind that Tony already has a ton of them, and will continue to acrue them throughout the rest of his life. Posterity will remember Kushner a lot more fondly, and for a lot longer, than Weisenfeld, that's for sure.

Playgoer said...

Thanks for getting a discussion going, guys. To Tom's point I'll just second CGS. Note I did not use the word "censorship" but did talk about the implications for "free speech." My concern is not the possible censorship of Kushner so much as the message sent to STUDENTS about which opinions are acceptable and which are out of bounds.

Meanwhile, please note my update from today (4/5) and let's continue the discussion there.