Tony Kushner denied CUNY honorary degree over views on Israel

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The City University of New York has rejected a honorary degree for playwright Tony Kushner after a member of its board of trustees, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, objected to Kushner’s criticism of Israel. The Jewish Week reports on the board of trustees meeting this week where the decision was made:

But 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. “There’s a lot of disingenuousness and non-intellectual activity directed against the State of Israel on campuses across the country,” he said, adding that CUNY has had its share of such activity, although it’s far better than most universities.

Following Wiesenfeld’s comments, a majority of CUNY board members voted to remove Kushner’s name from the list of this year’s honorees, and then voted unanimously to table, or put off, the honor to the playwright, according to CUNY spokesman Michael Arena. The move, though, effectively kills the honor, because the next scheduled board meeting is at the end of June, after John Jay’s June 3 commencement ceremony.

Wiesenfeld evidently also worked with Brooklyn Assemblyman (and settler supporter) Dov Hikind to try to get Brooklyn College adjunct professor Kristopher Peterson-Overton fired over critical views of Israel. That effort failed.

Kushner’s response to the CUNY board of trustees is embedded below and deserves to be read in full:

Letter to CUNY Trustees 05-04-11

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