Your May 13 editorial unfairly singles out CUNY Trustee Jeffrey Weisenfeld for denigration because he objected to bestowing a CUNY honorary degree upon Tony Kushner. Yet a tape of the meeting shows that even after Weisenfeld offered to be the “lone dissenter,” all the trustees at the meeting, including luminaries such as Benno Schmidt, former president of Yale University, went along with Weisenfeld’s objections.
However, this Kushner kerfuffle highlights a much larger issue. Are academics and celebrities immune from criticism and entitled to be honored even if they exhibit repulsive bigotry toward Israel and its supporters? Historian Benny Morris quotes the Arab League declaring in 1948, only three years after the Holocaust, that they would launch “a war of extermination and a momentous massacre, which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusadesâ€¦. It does not matter how many [Jews] there are. We will sweep them into the sea.”
Does anyone think that “ethnic cleansing” would adequately describe the fate of the Jews if the Arabs had prevailed? Yet Kushner never mentions the threat of extermination faced by the Jews of Palestine. Instead, he falsely cites Benny Morris in support of Kushner’s libel that Israel was, “founded in a program that, if you really want to be blunt about it, was ethnic cleansing.” Kushner also says, “The biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community.”
Reasonable people can disagree as to whether awarding Kushner an honorary degree is appropriate, but we do have a right to object to the bestowing of honors and leadership positions upon those who voice untrue or bigoted views about Israel or who incessantly single out Israel for opprobrium while ignoring far worse conduct from Arabs. Your editorial fails to recognize that by bestowing honors on people who allow their names to be associated with those actively campaigning for the delegitimization, boycott, and divestment of Israel, we enable those views to become more acceptable and more mainstream.
And we enable mainstream Israel supporters, like Weisenfeld, to become ostracized. Kushner enthusiasts are now calling for the resignation of Weisenfeld. Yet in the same breath they insist that Tony Kushner is entitled to be honored no matter what lies he spreads about supporters of Israel and about the founding of the Jewish State. What hypocrisy.