CUNY Gives Award To Bigot, Not To Jewish Opponent of Occupation

[UPDATED BELOW]

[NOTE: My thanks to Cecilie Surasky, Deputy Director of Jewish Voice for Peace and editor of the blog Muzzlewatch for alerting me to this story]

Here are some words from a man who is getting an honorary degree from the City University of New York:

“…there are hundreds of millions[of Muslims] who are terrorists. They want to kill every Christian, every Jew, every Hindu who won’t convert.”

Tony Kushner

Congressman King is now seeking to protect America and the Muslim American community.  How?  By holding hearings on whether or not the American Muslim community is becoming radicalized and giving aid and comfort to America’s enemies. “

Do we side with the repressive governments that are friendly to the U.S. – Mubarak of Egypt and Abdullah of Jordan and others as well – or do we simply support those mouthing the chants of democracy and take our chances, knowing that many in those mobs would, if given the chance, slit the throats of every Christian and Jew who won’t willingly convert to Islam.”

The man has made many similar comments, demonstrating his deep and abiding bigotry against Muslims.

These are the words of Ed Koch. In fairness, Koch was mayor of New York and during his term… uh, well…um…hey, both the Mets and Yankees won World Series while he was in office. No other mayor of New York can say that. So there!

Why do I care if CUNY gives Koch an award? Because of who they dropped from their list of awardees.

They dropped playwright Tony Kushner, a fierce fighter for just causes, and a writer whose play, Angels in America, was a groundbreaking dramatization of the experience with AIDS in the 1980s. Kushner, who has plainly stated his support for Israel — “I want the state of Israel to continue to exist. I’ve always said that. I’ve never said anything else. My positions have been lied about and misrepresented in so many ways. People claim that I’m for a one-state solution, which is not true,”—is being barred because of his opposition to Israel’s occupation and to what Zionism has become today.

Here are the statements which the report in the NY Jewish Week cites as the basis of the demonization of Kushner:

“The founding of the state of Israel required the dispossession of an indigenous group, the Palestinians. This is an unignorable reality, obscured by but not dissolved in preexisting and subsequent claims made by, or acts of inhumanity by, both sides, long before and long after Israel’s declaration as a state.” —Wrestling With Zion (Grove Press, 2003Edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon; Introduction by the editors, p.2

[Israel was] founded in a program that, if you really want to be blunt about it, was ethnic cleansing, and that today is behaving abominably towards the Palestinian people.
Yale Israel Review (winter 2005)

I’ve never been a Zionist. I have a problem with the idea of a Jewish state. It would have been better if it never happened.
The New York Sun reporting Kushner comments made at a conference in NY(10/14/02)

Playwright Tony Kushner said Israel is involved in ‘a deliberate destruction of Palestinian culture and a systematic attempt to destroy the identity of the Palestinian people.’
New York Sun (10/4/02)

These quotes can be found on the web site Kushner’s accuser, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, cites; they are sourced originally on the sites of the notorious propaganda machine, CAMERA and the fanatically right-wing Zionist Organization of America.

One may disagree with Kushner’s political views. I do not agree with them myself. But should that have anything to do with his getting an award based on his work? Are we really content, as Americans and as Jews (those of us who are one or both) to see this sort of willful political censorship?

Are we really ok with an educational institution being bullied by a wealthy and influential fanatic (a label Wiesenfeld has earned by his reliance on the sources he chose) to block an award for a crusader against social justice, but award one to a bigot who endorses witch-hunts based on religious beliefs?

UPDATE: 

Tony Kushner has sent a letter to the CUNY Trustees. The text can be found online here.

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the CUNY trustee who blacklisted Kushner, has a history of allegations of racism and bigotry. Some background can be found here. He was also deeply involved in the opposition to the Kahlil Gibran School, a major controversy in New York several years ago. So we know he has a long history of bigotry, largely, but not solely, against Muslims.

One must hope someone can stop this man from spreading his hate any further.

PS, also check out Justin Elliott’s excellent piece on this at Salon.com

3 thoughts on “CUNY Gives Award To Bigot, Not To Jewish Opponent of Occupation

  1. Mitchell, now that I’ve informed you that Ed Koch has called for Wiesenfeld’s removal from the CUNY board for denying Kushner his honorary degree, I wish you’d reconsider your hyperbolic labeling of Koch as a “bigot.”

    Koch is an ornery independent-minded guy who is not given to polite talk. He is often over the top in his statements. But he’s also giving voice to legitimate concerns and fears about terrorism. Calling somebody a name does not help us deal with these concerns and fears.

    • Ralph, I was well aware of Koch’s response long before your message. There is nothing hyperbolic about calling someone who supports the profiling of Muslims as a group a bigot. Indeed, Koch’s racism has been a point of contention for a long time, including, for those of us living in NYC’s poorer areas during his dominion, in his time as mayor. His policies then, which were much more kindred to Giuliani’s than they were to his predecessor, Abe Beame or his successor, David Dinkins, were frequently denounced as racist. In his later days, he has done nothing to dispel that perception.

      That Koch comes down on the side of an open debate on this issue is absolutely unconnected to whether or not he’s a bigot. Contrary to your statement, years of progress-free struggle on the issue at hand demonstrates the futility of both hyperbolic accusations (which this obviously is not) and the timid fear of not calling powerful voices what they are.

Comments are closed.