The article was originally published in the Friday, May 13 edition of the Great Neck News under the title Great Neck Resident Bravely Opposes Honoring Anti-Israel Playwright, and was written by Liz Berney, who was a Republican candidate for Congress in New York’s 5th Congressional district.
The adage “no good deed goes unpunished” has a new victim – Great Neck resident Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY). Mr. Wiesenfeld bravely stood up to oppose an outrage about to take place at CUNY’s John Jay School of Criminal Justice – and now Mr. Wiesenfeld is being subjected to a slew of attacks.
For those of you who have not been following this story, here is some background:
If the world’s greatest physicist stated that “it would have been better if blacks never existed,” there isn’t a single university in America that would even consider bestowing an honorary degree on such a hateful, bigoted individual.
Yet, CUNY’s John Jay School is about to award an honorary degree to a mediocre, propagandizing playwright, Tony Kushner, who has made a career out of spewing similar hateful statements at Israel, and who serves on the board of radical leftist organizations such as the so-called “Jewish Voices for Peace” which promote anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and other campaigns aimed at destroying the State of Israel. Playwright Kushner called Israel’s founding a “mistake” (Ha’aretz, 4/7/04) and stated “it would have been better if Israel never happened” (NY conference reported in NY Sun (10/14/02). Kushner also falsely accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and “behaving abominably towards the Palestinian people” (Yale Israel Review, winter 2005), falsely accused the Israel Defense Forces of “brutal and illegal tactics” (London Times, 5/7/02), and blamed Israeli policies for the PLO massacre of Israeli athletes at Munich. Another Tony Kushner “gem” was: “The biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community and Israel itself has got this disgraceful record.” (Ton Kushner in Conversation, ed. Robert Vorlicky, Univ. of Michigan Press, 1998, pp. 83-84.) Kushner also edited a book of essays, Wrestling With Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2003), condemning every aspect of Israeli life and law including Israel’s right to defend herself from attack.
Kushner’s screenplay for the movie “Munich” was atrociously inaccurate. The film was criticized by Professor Alan Dershowitz, former U.S. Holocaust Museum Director Dr. Walter Reich, CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting), and a slew of others. Kushner’s “Munich” falsely depicted Israelis as bloodthirsty, money-obsessed, unjustified, sloppy, guilt-ridden avengers, morally equivalent to terrorists. The film falsely blamed Israel for “dispossession” and “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians, and portrayed Palestinian terrorists sympathetically, as, for example, middle-aged poets, teachers and ordinary family men. According to former Mossad director Ephraim Halevy, Kushner’s screenplay for the movie Munich “had no relation to the truth or the facts.” Leon Wieseltier wrote that “Munich” equated counter-terrorism with terrorism. (The New Republic, 12/19/05)
Senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld’s thorough analysis called Kushner’s Munich “pernicious” in its espousal of a “cycle of violence” theory and “the most hypocritical film of the year.” (Commentary, Feb. 2006) Schoenfeld also noted that Avner Kauffman, the real Mossad agent in the counter-terrorism effort, remained a patriotic Israeli afterwards, certain that the counter-terrorism mission was necessary. In reality, Kauffman and the other Mossad agents felt much like the Navy SEALs who were involved in the bin Laden operation must feel. Yet, Kushner falsely portrayed Kauffman as guilt-ridden and so disgusted and tormented by the “treatment” of Palestinians that he abandoned Israel. (In Kushner’s world, America’s SEALs should be so tormented and guilt-racked about having killed bin Laden that they will reject America.)
Schoenfeld also explained that the movie never gave any inkling that the PLO’s massacre of Israeli athletes at Munich was preceded by decades of unrelenting Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, abetted by Arab governments – including the PLO bombing of a Swiss Air flight bound for Tel Aviv in 1970 (killing 47 passengers), hijackings and attacks on passengers at European airports, and PLO sub-group PLFP’s attack on passengers at Israel’s Lod airport (killing 26 passengers) five months before Munich. Instead, Kushner made it seem as if Israel did something horrible prior to Munich which instigated the PLO terrorism there. Nor did the movie reveal that the post-Munich counterterrorism operation was also necessary to prevent future attacks. Instead it portrayed counterterrorism as encouraging future attacks.
As bloggers have noted, Mr. Kushner’s anti-Israel, pro-Arab propagandizing is downright bizarre in light of the fact that Kushner is a self-proclaimed gay Jewish socialist. He would probably be murdered on the spot if he stepped foot into the homophobic Palestinian / Arab territories whom he lauds over the tolerant State of Israel.
To return to our brave fellow Great Neck citizen: Mr. Wiesenfeld (whose parents are Holocaust survivors) was rightly outraged when he learned of plans to confer an honorary degree on anti-Israel propagandist Kushner. At a CUNY Trustees’ meeting on Monday night, May 2, 2011, Mr. Wiesenfeld spoke up about Mr. Kushner’s anti-Israel views and the growing acceptance of anti-Israel views on CUNY campuses and elsewhere. (Hurling false accusations at Israel is the current form of the ages-old scourge of anti-Semitism.) In the ensuing vote, Mr. Wiesenfeld and four other trustees (Judah Gribetz, Peter S. Pantaleo, Deputy Mayor Carol A. Robles-Roman and Charles A. Shorter) voted against the Kushner nomination, thereby defeating it. (Nine out of the 12 trustees must approve an honorary degree nomination.) The CUNY Trustees also voted overwhelmingly, 10 to 2, to table any further discussion of the Kushner nomination, rather than to take it up again. (NYT, 5/5/11 & 5/6/11)
Unfortunately, the story did not end there, as it should have. Kushner “defended” himself by issuing a statement claiming that he “supports” Israel while reiterating his false anti-Israel views and justifying them on the basis that other Jews (the ill-informed and/or self-hating variety, no doubt) share his “outrage, grief, terror” and “moments of despair” that the “brunt” of the “ongoing horror in the Middle East . . . has been born by the Palestinian people.” (Tell that to the Israeli Fogel family – including the 2-month-old baby girl and two little boys who were brutally murdered in their sleep last month by Palestinian terrorists. And tell that to the Chasids returning from praying at Joseph’s tomb two weeks ago, who were gunned down by Palestinian policemen shouting “Allahu Akbar.”)
Kushner also claimed that he is not an extremist, while Jeff Wiesenfeld rightly pointed out that accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing” crosses the line and constitutes an extremist blood libel against the Jewish people. Wiesenfeld asked, if Kushner is correct that Israel is guilty of ethnic cleansing, then why are one million Arabs living in Israel, under better conditions than in Arab countries? Mr. Wiesenthal’s statement read:
“All of us on this board have voted for hundreds of honorary degrees since I’ve been on the board; people of all persuasions, and quite a few critics of Israel. The qualitative difference with Mr. Kushner were his claims that it would have been better had Israel not been created, a denial of Jewish nationhood that he would deny to no other people and his accusations of ethnic cleansing by Israel. The Jewish people and the State of Israel are among the few peoples of the world never to have had a policy of ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing is Nazi Germany, Bosnia, Darfur, Rwanda and the like. The accusation is a blood libel against the Jewish people for which they’ve paid dearly through history. A million Arabs live in Israel in conditions better than in virtually any Arab state; were they subject to ethnic cleansing like Christians in Arab lands, they would not be there.
As for Mr. Kushner’s “support for Israel”, I do not know of many people who support Israel and lament her creation, nor do I know too many people who charge her with ethnic cleansing who celebrate her creation. Were Mr. Kushner to renounce just these libelous statements, which cross the line, even I would cast my vote for him. Why? Because then he is like any other critic of Israel, expressing views with which I greatly disagree, but not accusing Israelis in a libelous manner of a universally unforgivable crime.”
Certain groups insisted that Tony Kushner should still be honored, and that Jeffrey Wiesenfeld should be thrown off the CUNY Board of Trustees! According to the respected New York Academy of Sciences: “A campaign against Wiesenfeld has been launched by the PSC-CUNY faculty union, almost entirely dominated by members of the extreme Left, who have never been shy about their anti-Israeli and anti-meritocratic sentiments.” A writer for the Guardian (a paper that is always ready to viciously attack Israel) compared Wiesenfeld and the CUNY Trustee’s vote to the McCarthy era. (No one is impinging on Kushner’s first amendment rights; the vote merely reflected the fact that Kushner does not deserve discretionary accolades for his hateful propaganda.) A one-sided New York Times blog (5/6/11) claimed that the vote stifled “freedom of thought and expression” at CUNY and spoke of Kushner’s supposed “extraordinary talent,” without mentioning any of Kushner’s extreme anti-Israel statements.
Incredibly, pro-Israel former Mayor Ed Koch wrote to CUNY Board Chairman Benno Schmidt, demanding Wiesenfeld’s removal from the Board of Trustees, and demanding that, despite the vote against him, Kushner should receive the honorary degree. Koch stated that Kushner’s personal views should have nothing to do with honoring him, and asked, “What does Kushner receiving an award have to do with criticism of the State of Israel?” (Id.) Similarly, Chairman Schmidt publicly stated that political views were irrelevant to the granting of an award.
Really? Hateful views don’t matter? Would CUNY ever confer an honor on David Duke, even if Duke invented a cure for AIDs? And, here, Kushner is being honored for the same written work which espouses and is permeated by his false and hateful views!
Shamefully, as of the writing of this article, it appears that the Chairman of the CUNY Board of Trustees will capitulate to Koch’s misguided letter and the leftists’ campaign. Chairman Schmidt scheduled a meeting of the 7-member Trustees’ Executive Committee (which he is believed to control) for Monday evening May 9, to apparently overrule the full Board vote and to grant Kushner the award.
I hope our community will support Mr. Wiesenfeld for standing up for what is right. Feel free to write to The New York Times, or to CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein (535 East 80th Street, New York, NY 10075) or Inside Higher Education (on the web) or any other appropriate publication. If a college trustee such as Great Neck’s Jeff Wiesenfeld is removed from his post for refusing to honor an anti-Semite, we are all in trouble.