Tony Kushner 311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
NEW YORK – In an out-of-theordinary, 20-minute meeting of its board of trustees
Monday night, CUNY approved an honorary degree for Jewish American playwright
The award of this degree had previously been placed on hold
due to Kushner’s views on Israel, which, when publicized, elicited a veritable
maelstrom of criticism of CUNY and the board of trustees.
CUNY to reconsider nixing Kushner’s honorary degree
NY school snubs Kushner over anti-Israel comments
won the Pulitzer Prize for his play Angels in America will receive the honorary
degree of doctor of letters from John Jay College of CUNY, at the school’s
commencement ceremony on June 3.
In a statement, CUNY President Benno
Schmidt called the unusual trustees’ meeting in order to fix “a mistake of
principle, and not merely of policy.”
Prior to Monday night’s meeting,
the board of trustees had voted to table the decision on Kushner’s honorary
degree after one trustee, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, alerted the board to Kushner’s
positions on Israel – among them the playwright’s belief that Israel had engaged
in ethnic cleansing at the state’s founding.
Kushner, who has been
honored by many Jewish institutions in the past, disputed Wiesenfeld’s
characterization of his views on Israel. Kushner has called himself a supporter
of the Jewish State who subscribes to the political left, as well as the views
of Israeli historian Benny Morris, who has made similar arguments regarding
Israel’s behavior in 1948.
Kushner told The New York Times
that he will accept the honorary degree, “because of the real gratitude I feel
for the students and faculty of John Jay... I think it was appropriate for the
board to make this decision,” adding, “I think questions have been raised about
what constitutes appropriate conduct for individual trustees and the board as a
whole, and I hope those questions will go on to spark a vigorous and
consequential debate.”New York Times
columnist Clyde Haberman wrote that
the school’s trustees “seemed to have collectively blanked on the fact that Mr.
Kushner’s opinions of Israel – good or bad, definitely not indifferent – had
nothing to do with John Jay’s reason for extolling him: he writes important
“He’s not creating shrines to Osama bin Laden. He simply thinks
differently about the Middle East than many others, including fellow Jews.”