NEW YORK – Famed Angels in America Jewish American playwright Tony Kushner will not be awarded an honorary degree from the City University of New York’s John Jay campus, after a university trustee said Kushner has repeatedly disparaged Israel.

University trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, an investment adviser and onetime aide to former Gov. George E. Pataki and former Senator Alfonse D’Amato, said Kushner had said Israel’s founding was based on a policy of ethnic cleansing, criticized the Israeli Army and supported a boycott of Israel. In light of Wiesenfeld’s expression of opposition, as well as some board members’ agreement with it, the motion to give Kushner an honorary degree was tabled by the trustees.

“I think it’s up to all of us to look at fairness and consider these things,” Wiesenfeld told The New York Times. “Especially when the State of Israel, which is our sole democratic ally in the area, sits in the neighborhood which is almost universally dominated by administrations which are almost universally misogynist, anti-gay, anti-Christian.”

“I wasn’t told in advance that my willingness to accept an honorary doctorate from John Jay would require my presence at a meeting to defend myself,” Kushner wrote in a letter to the university’s trustees after the decision not to give him an honorary degree had been made.

In elaborating upon his views on Israel, Kushner wrote in the letter, “My opinion about the wisdom of the creation of a Jewish state has never been expressed in any form without a strong statement of support for Israel’s right to exist, and my ardent wish that it continue to do so, something Mr. Wiesenfeld conveniently left out of his remarks.”

Kushner added, “I believe that the historical record shows, incontrovertibly, that the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes as part of the creation of the state of Israel was ethnic cleansing.” He cited Israeli historian Benny Morris an authority for informing this viewpoint.

However, Kushner wrote, he “never supported a boycott of the state of Israel. I don’t believe it will accomplish anything positive in terms of resolving the crisis. I believe that the call for a boycott is predicated on an equation of this crisis with other situations, contemporary and historical, that is fundamentally false, the consequence of a failure of political understanding of a full and compassionate engagement with Jewish history and Jewish existence.”

“If [Kushner’s] libelous statements against Israel were made by anyone outside the Jewish community, that person would be correctly labeled an anti- Semite,” Wiesenfeld wrote in an article in Algemeiner justifying his decision.

“When you hold the State of Israel – a nation in a struggle for its survival from the beginning, a target for the misogynist, racist, anti-western, dictatorial regimes which surround it – to a standard you would hold no other nation under normal circumstances, let alone under such exigencies – and when you spew libel against our sole regional democratic ally for ‘crimes’ concocted by delegitimizers, you are an anti-Semite.”

“I would no differently oppose a racist for an honorary degree who personifies himself by calumny against a people,” Wiesenfeld wrote.

“If Mr. Kushner were a CUNY student degree candidate, or even more extremely, if he were David Duke or Lynne Stewart or Sonny Carson or any other detestable individual, no trustee or administrator would have the right to deny him or her a degree if requisite requirements were fulfilled.”


“This has been an incredibly ugly experience,” Kushner told the Times, “that a great public university would make a decision based on slanderous mischaracterizations without giving the person in question a chance to be heard.”

“I’m sickened,” he added, “that this is happening in New York City. Shocked, really.”

Kushner has been honored by numerous Jewish institutions in the past.

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