Friday, May 6, 2011

Tony Kushner - Honor or Dishonor

Tony Kushner was initially "denied" an honorary degree by CUNY because of his perceived political views regarding Israel. Under pressure, according to the New York Times, the CUNY Board then reversed this decision. Benno C. Schmidt, Jr., the CUNY Board chairman was quoted in the New York Times as believing the board had "made a mistake of principle, and not merely of policy." He went on to say "it is not right for the board to consider politics in connection with the award of honorary degrees except in extreme cases not presented by the facts here." Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the board member who raised objections to Kushner stated, in a letter to the editor, that Kushner's accusation of Israel participating in "ethnic cleansing" "crosses the line."

Was Wiesenfeld wrong in raising this issue? Apparently a sufficient number of board members thought enough of his remarks to postpone Kushner's nomination (they did not "deny" him the honor), and tabled it until more information could be obtained.

The much honored (including a Nobel Prize) South African Bishop Desmond Tutu has been said to have made anti-Zionist remarks, accusing Israel of apartheid, and more! ( He is hardly the only honored personage to whom such remarks have been attributed - there are many!

Before we jump on the Kushner bandwagon and latch on to the concept of the separation of politics from honorary academic acknowledgment, we should remember Schmidt's own cautionary words about "extreme cases". Is Tutu an extreme case? Is Kushner?

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