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May 4, 2011 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize winning author of "Angels in America," has been denied an honorary degree because of his views on Israel. City University of New York trustee Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld raised objections to the nomination in what may the first honorary degree candidate to be denied by the board.

The move to block Kushner's honorary degree comes on the heels of Wiesenfeld's effort (along with Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind) to fire an adjunct professor in January during which he said the professor's views on Israel would "pollute the academic realm." The firing was overturned.

Kushner won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1993 for "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes." Set in New York City in the 1980s, the play is an exploration of life in America during the Reagan era through the lived experiences of a diverse set of characters including Jewish, Mormon, Gay, and HIV+ people.
posted by jardinier (122 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. — Aristotle
posted by Zozo at 11:29 AM on May 4, 2011 [14 favorites]


Then who really is Jef­frey S. Wiesen­feld? Why was he re-appointed at a spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion just before the end of the Pataki term?

Sounds like he's well into the "Christ, what an asshole" territory, with a long history of ultra-right wing politics and supporting the sorts of expansionist Israeli policies that even most Israelis don't support.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:30 AM on May 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


What a spectacularly bad idea. It smacks of desperation, though, not power.
posted by OmieWise at 11:30 AM on May 4, 2011


Much as that sucks, at least hee already has one from my alma mater, which he received the year I graduated!
posted by zizzle at 11:33 AM on May 4, 2011


with a long history of ultra-right wing politics and supporting the sorts of expansionist Israeli policies that even most Israelis don't support.

If he were a centrist and/or his ideas were well in line with Israel, would this have been right?
posted by DU at 11:33 AM on May 4, 2011


with a long history of ultra-right wing politics and supporting the sorts of expansionist Israeli policies that even most Israelis don't support.

If he were a centrist and/or his ideas were well in line with Israel, would this have been right?


No, it wouldn't. But the fact that this is but one incident in a long pattern of vicious racism is an important fact to know.
posted by kafziel at 11:35 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


If he were a centrist and/or his ideas were well in line with Israel, would this have been right?

What a strange question. Of course not, and I am absolutely uncertain as to why you thought somebody might answer to the contrary.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:37 AM on May 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


This stuff happens all the time - it baffles me why there is actually more room for dissent about Israeli policy in Israel than in the US. For example, one of the essays in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded describes how a women of color organization (the Incite Collective itself? I don't have the book handy) had a grant for a media project yanked because of their unrelated support for Palestine.

I can only surmise that because average Americans know very little about the history of Israel, current politics within Israel and actual, global anti-semitism, there is a great deal of traction for "Israeli foreign policy is great, anti-semitism is always and only tied to criticism of Israel, and if you criticize Israel you are providing support for neo-nazis".
posted by Frowner at 11:38 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


South Africa had defenders who leaped to it's cause anytime people pointed the whole nature of Apartheid too.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Israeli foreign policy is great, anti-semitism is always and only tied to criticism of Israel, and if you criticize Israel you are providing support for neo-nazis".

Exactly. That's how they shut down the discussion.
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:41 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


This stuff happens all the time - it baffles me why there is actually more room for dissent about Israeli policy in Israel than in the US.

The Israel Lobby works the halls of academia as well as of power.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:42 AM on May 4, 2011


I am absolutely uncertain

best.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:43 AM on May 4, 2011


unfuckingbelievable
posted by liza at 11:43 AM on May 4, 2011


Kushner.. has written that Israel was "founded in a program that, if you really want to be blunt about it, was ethnic cleansing." He has also said that "it would have been better" had the State of Israel never been created and that Israel is involved in the "deliberate destruction" of Palestinian culture and identity.

The bluntness is inflammatory, and I don't know if things would have been/would be better if there never were an Israeli state.

But from what I've read, the history of Israel does include actions that could be described as ethnic cleansing, including deliberate efforts to destroy Palestinian culture and identity.

Is there really an open question about that?
posted by weston at 11:48 AM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Frowner: "I can only surmise that because average Americans know very little about the history of Israel, current politics within Israel and actual, global anti-semitism, there is a great deal of traction for 'Israeli foreign policy is great, anti-semitism is always and only tied to criticism of Israel, and if you criticize Israel you are providing support for neo-nazis.' "

Liquidwolf: "Exactly. That's how they shut down the discussion."

Agreed, this notion that critique of Israel is the same as anti-semitism is so pivotal to the unnecessary conflict and misunderstandings around this area.

In a paper presented at the "Rethinking Secularism: The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere" symposium, Judith Butler makes an excellent case for the idea that challenging the hegemony of Israel, especially as a military state is actually a "Jewish thing to do."
posted by jardinier at 11:53 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


His views are a lot more complicated than those little snippets suggest. Here's a quote from (of all places) his liner notes for the Klezmatics album Possessed, which is actually a wonderful piece of writing:

"I want to be both a God-believing Jew and a historical materialist socialist
humanist agnostic. I want the State of Israel to exist (since it does
anyway) and I want the cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs honored and I want
to shokl with Jews at the Wailing Wall and at the same time (and I'm
afraid this won't help sales of your CD) I think the founding of the State of
Israel was for the Jewish people a historical, moral, political calamity.
Contemplating the possible destruction of Israel (civil war?) I feel at times
if I could ever kill for a nationalist cause, I might kill for that one but at
the same time I wish modern Israel hadn't been born; I am a diasporan Jew, not
a Zionist; and I say this feeling that Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in
Jerusalem, is, its Zionist agenda and homophobia notwithstanding, Jewish
history's best most eloquent single answer to Hitler and the Holocaust; and
is so because it is in Jerusalem but I wish Jerusalem was an international
city under a U.N. protectorate; and I wish the Museum of the Holocaust in
Washington was a Museum of the Jewish-American Experience instead, with a
holocaust wing, and I wish it stood on the Mall alongside museums devoted to the
sufferings and triumphs of other ethnic-American groups, including a museum of
the African-American experience, with a Slavery wing, which I wish was built with,
in addition to other funding sources, Tsedakah from committed, determinedly
anti-racist Jewish-Americans."
posted by neroli at 11:55 AM on May 4, 2011 [32 favorites]


Ah, Israel, the third rail of NYC politics. It never ceases to amaze me that where you stand on the Israel/Palestine question has such a huge impact on local issues there.
posted by KingEdRa at 11:55 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


CUNY's board of trustees is like the anti-Google: their motto is "Do nothing but evil" and they work to prevent people from accessing knowledge. There's this, surprise tuition hikes, and so on. Let's just say they are why the Y and the T are next to each other on the keyboard, if you know what I mean.
posted by fuq at 11:56 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is Weisenfeld in a job where he's sworn to defend the Constitution? If so, fire him for doing the opposite.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:59 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Angels in America is seriously amazing. Sadly I still haven't seen it performed (or the HBO movie), but reading it was a transformative experience.
posted by kmz at 12:00 PM on May 4, 2011


What a spectacularly bad idea. It smacks of desperation, though, not power.

Yeah, there's a real "what did you win here?" question. I mean, sure Wiesenfeld gets to strut around at the next AIPAC convention / NeoCon brunch / Fox News cocktail party talking about how "I put that antisemitic cocksucker in his place", and he probably collects some high-fives for it, but how exactly does this help Israel?

I mean, I guess the message is out: if you don't toe a pretty narrowly-defined pro-Israel line, you won't be made comfortable at CUNY. Sure, the firing got overturned, but no one -- and certainly no without tenure -- is going to feel safe speaking their mind on Israel, unless their mindset mirrors Jeffrey Wiesenfeld's.

So yeah, there's a SLAPP effect, and some "anti-Israel" speech gets suppressed.

But everyone who feels they can't speak freely -- in a place whose raison d'être is supposed to be academic freedom, no less -- is going to feel a resentment against not only Wiesenfeld but, rigfhtly or wrongly, against the State of Israel.

I suppose the calculation is that a few resentful gagged professors is better than the "poisoning" of the minds of many undergraduates.

But it's not like undergraduates -- especially Jewish American undergrads -- haven't heard of J Street, haven't already found that defending the actions of the State of Israel sometimes conflicts with their liberal humanistic values.

And it's the support of these young American Jews that the State of Israel can't afford to lose. As the "no questions asked" older generations of America Jews ages, the State of Israel -- increasingly wracked by internal dissension and even violence among Jews over politics and theology -- depends on younger American Jews who do ask questions to keep from becoming an isolated pariah state in the world.

Wiesenfeld is just telling these young American Jews that the only way to make Israel look good is to keep pressing down with very heavy hand to suppress dissent, by smearing people and attempting to destroy their careers.

And ultimately, that makes Israel look worse -- and is worse for the State of Israel -- than any of the criticism Wiesenfeld is suppressing.
posted by orthogonality at 12:03 PM on May 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


This stuff happens all the time - it baffles me why there is actually more room for dissent about Israeli policy in Israel than in the US.

To be fair, there's no shortage of dissent suppression within the Israeli academy. The most important theorist of the Israeli economy that you've never heard of works in semi-obscurity as an associate professor at a Canadian university. If I'm remembering this correctly, his move to Canada happened in part because his early research on the Israeli defense industry was 'too hot' (he ended up coming here to do his PhD at McGill). His collaborator within Israel teaches at an unremarkable undergraduate college. Luckily they make all their work freely available online.

It's true that the space for public discourse and dissent seems much wider in Israel than in the US, but that doesn't automatically immunize dissidents from the sting of politics within their professions.
posted by waterunderground at 12:07 PM on May 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


// that first link wasn't supposed to be that long, it should have ended after 'economy'. Sorry.
posted by waterunderground at 12:08 PM on May 4, 2011


Angels in America is seriously amazing. Sadly I still haven't seen it performed (or the HBO movie), but reading it was a transformative experience.

No, Henry, no. AIDS is what homosexuals have. I have... liver cancer.
posted by orthogonality at 12:09 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


What a strange question. Of course not, and I am absolutely uncertain as to why you thought somebody might answer to the contrary.

Because you made a big deal out of how out of line with mainstream thought he is. It sounded like THAT was supposed to be the reason.
posted by DU at 12:09 PM on May 4, 2011


Because you made a big deal out of how out of line with mainstream thought he is. It sounded like THAT was supposed to be the reason.

Can I suggest that going into threads about Israel with your OMG ISRAEL APOLOGIST guns abalazing might not be the best way to encourage civil discussion?
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:10 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Is Weisenfeld in a job where he's sworn to defend the Constitution? If so, fire him for doing the opposite."

CUNY trustees are appointed by the governor. Here's the announcement of Weisenfeld's most recent re-appointment.

Interestingly, he's also on the board of the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre, "the country's sole surviving professional Yiddish theater."
posted by jardinier at 12:10 PM on May 4, 2011


Interestingly, he's also on the board of the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre, "the country's sole surviving professional Yiddish theater."

Which I will not attend until he is removed from the board, and would encourage others to do likewise.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:12 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


A number of points:
1. yes. I defend Israel.
2. graduation honorary degrees are more often than not fund raising things.
3. I greatly admire Angels. Truly great work.
4. Tony a dope in his anti-Israeli statements;
a. you can oppose Israeli policies--I often do.
b. but to say Israel ought not to have been given statehood because ...what?
c. there was no Palestinian state. Ever. If you think so, show me.
d. Gaza and West Bank belonged to Egypt and Jordan (1964)--Palestinians living there never cried out for their own state then..when those two nations lost that land after invading Israel,they told Israel they were not interested in getting it back...check and you will see.
5. In general I dislike boards of trustees--they too are often sought for their money. And perhaps in this instance the Makers and Shakers feel it important to placate a board member.
posted by Postroad at 12:18 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


"And perhaps in this instance the Makers and Shakers feel it important to placate a board member."

Yeah, perhaps - but the Big Bad here is that this board member has now twice this year so far, stifled freedom of expression and academic freedom at the USA's largest urban public university.
posted by jardinier at 12:22 PM on May 4, 2011


Postroad makes an interesting point: it's not just that Weisenfeld voted against the honory degree, it's that a majority of the CUNY Board agreed and voted with Weisenfeld.

I'd thought initially it might have been a "blackball" or liberum veto that denied the honorary degree to Kushner. But no, it was a majority of the Board. That's really a shameful black eye for CUNY.
posted by orthogonality at 12:23 PM on May 4, 2011


But no, it was a majority of the Board.

Dude rules that board with an iron fist.
posted by tiny plastic sockpuppet at 12:27 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and the Jewish Week article lists several other recipients of CUNY honoary degrees this year, and all of therm are Jewish.
This year, that list included former Mayor Edward Koch and Bernard Spitzer, the father of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, both of whom will receive Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from the City College of New York; Joel Klein, the city's former schools chancellor, who will receive the same honorary degree from CUNY; and Judith S. Kaye, the state's former chief judge and John Jay College's other honorary-degree candidate.

Is CUNY only awarding honorary degrees to Jews, or is Jewish Week only listing Jewish recipients?
posted by orthogonality at 12:30 PM on May 4, 2011


Yeah, Ed Koch included, that would be the guy who said:

"Of course the vast majority of Muslims, there are 400 million, are not terrorists. But there are hundreds of millions who are. They want to kill every Christian, every Jew, every Hindu who won't convert. And we ought to put it on the table."

And also this:

"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."
posted by jardinier at 12:34 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


...and this:

“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.”
posted by jardinier at 12:34 PM on May 4, 2011


c. there was no Palestinian state. Ever. If you think so, show me.

What is the point of this? The area where Israel is now located was once called Palestine. The people that live there now and have lived there for hundreds of years want statehood, why does it matter whether or not they already had it? This adds nothing to the argument.
posted by Hoopo at 12:35 PM on May 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Jewish Week is only listing select Jewish recipients, as other Jews I know who have recently received honorary degrees are not listed there.
posted by tiny plastic sockpuppet at 12:35 PM on May 4, 2011


And not to start a wild derail, but it's pretty disingenuous to suggest that CUNY only gives honorary degrees to Jews based on a list of a few people in a Jewish periodical.
posted by tiny plastic sockpuppet at 12:38 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jewish Week is only listing select Jewish recipients, as other Jews I know who have recently received honorary degrees are not listed there.

But it's not a list of recent recipients, it's the list of upcoming recipients.

but it's pretty disingenuous to suggest that CUNY only gives honorary degrees to Jews based on a list of a few people in a Jewish periodical.

I didn't suggest that; I asked whether it was a CUNY thing or a Jewish Week thing.
posted by orthogonality at 12:40 PM on May 4, 2011


Wiesenfeld cited what he believed were some of Kushner's anti-Israel statements, all of which he said he found on the website of Norman Finkelstein, another figure known for his vehemently anti-Israel views.

American radical: The trials of Norman Finkelstein
posted by homunculus at 12:44 PM on May 4, 2011


I didn't suggest that; I asked whether it was a CUNY thing or a Jewish Week thing.

Got it, sorry for any misunderstanding. Anyway, it looks to me like a JW thing - they just picked the most famous jewish recipients from a couple of CUNY institutions. Lehman College's recipient for 2011, for example, is Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, first lady of the Dominican Republic, and I'm pretty sure she's not jewish.
posted by tiny plastic sockpuppet at 12:46 PM on May 4, 2011


What is the point of this? The area where Israel is now located was once called Palestine. The people that live there now and have lived there for hundreds of years want statehood, why does it matter whether or not they already had it? This adds nothing to the argument.

Lessons from the birthers: disguise your racism with technicalities.
posted by notion at 1:09 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lessons from the birthers: disguise your racism with technicalities.

If you think it is unfair for supporters of Israel to shut down discussion with accusations of antisemitism, perhaps you might consider not shutting down comments from people who are pro-Israel -- especially those who are pro-Israel but critical of the country -- with charges of racism.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:19 PM on May 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


Chillax, people, this is about Tony Kushner and the damn CUNY board, not a referendum if the state of Israel deserves to exist or not. This is a freedom of speech issue, not an anti-Zionist issue.
posted by msali at 1:22 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


You are correct and I withdraw the racism charge. It was not fair and didn't help the discussion.

I just get a little upset because the two charges are different. The separate rules that have been created for Palestinians are not imagined. The anti-Semitism charges are irrational because the assumption would be that Israel exists only for Jews. If that's an accepted fact, there is nothing to argue: Israel exists not as a democracy, but as a state that explicitly discriminates against citizens who are not of Jewish descent.
posted by notion at 1:28 PM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm not too bothered. Honorary degrees are political crap to begin with and the freedom to speak publicly about contentious issues comes with living the consequences of that speech. I am closer to Kushner's side than Wiesenfeld's, but Wiesenfeld has a right to his opinions. If the board is just supposed to rubberstamp honorary degrees why make them vote on it? I'm sure they don't have veto power on earned degrees...

If someone had voted to block Koch's honorary degree because of his muslim related speeches that would be just as kosher.
posted by pseudonick at 3:01 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


If someone had voted to block Koch's honorary degree because of his muslim related speeches that would be just as kosher.

Would it be halal?
posted by kmz at 3:22 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, honorary degrees are political crap. No, a city-run university should not engage in the public shaming of a noted American artist and intellectual because of his views on another sovereign nation's politics. And you can be damn sure this alumnus won't be giving CUNY a dime until there's a public apology.
posted by Football Bat at 4:04 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do people actually flaunt honorary degrees? Like, do they go by "Doctor" after they receive one? Because my university gave one to Dan Akroyd because he dropped out of his sociology program 35 years previously and later became famous. It hardly seems like it's even an honor, frankly.
posted by Hoopo at 4:34 PM on May 4, 2011


Do people actually flaunt honorary degrees?

Ask the Rev. Sir Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A.
posted by pmurray63 at 4:49 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]



"What is the point of this? The area where Israel is now located was once called Palestine. The people that live there now and have lived there for hundreds of years want statehood, why does it matter whether or not they already had it? This adds nothing to the argument."

WRONG

the name Palestine is Roman and not arabic. It was used for the Jewish homeland as an insult when Rome occupied Jerusalem and dispersed most of the Jews.
the land where is Israel now stands was part of Turkish empire and was so for 400 years. Turks are not Arabs..never was any such place called Palestine. Arabs only began using that term in 1964, when PLO was created. Their goad, as stated , was not to liberate Palestinian Arabs but to destroy Israel...and that remains the goal of Hamas to this day.
do you hear the Palestinians living in Israel calling for statehood or moving out?
posted by Postroad at 5:11 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


UPDATE: Tony Kushner responds to the CUNY board in a letter.
posted by jardinier at 5:33 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Huh, I wish Kushner had been less concerned with justifying his stance on Israel -- though I understand why he had to be -- and more concerned with Wiesenfeld's attack on academic freedom. It implies that anyone who doesn't accept the conventional wisdom on Israel needs to explain himself.

But I do like that he excoriates the other board members for not refuting Wiesenfeld.
posted by orthogonality at 5:43 PM on May 4, 2011


the land where is Israel now stands was part of Turkish empire and was so for 400 years. Turks are not Arabs..never was any such place called Palestine. Arabs only began using that term in 1964, when PLO was created. Their goad, as stated , was not to liberate Palestinian Arabs but to destroy Israel...and that remains the goal of Hamas to this day.

What a load.

It was called Palestine -- or very similar variants -- for thousands of years.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:57 PM on May 4, 2011


do you hear the Palestinians living in Israel calling for statehood or moving out?

It's not as if there aren't Palestinians who fled what became Israel in 1948 and who have been sitting in refugee camps ever since.

It strikes me that the thing to argue about or discuss is not decisions taken 60 odd years ago, but what we're going to do now, when we've got a state of Israel, a load of people who live there (who aren't actually homogenous) and a load of people who have been displaced for a long time.
posted by hoyland at 6:33 PM on May 4, 2011


UPDATE: Salon picks up the story.

On the "was it called palestine" question: I have a solution that will be just as productive but won't take as much time. How about everyone who thinks that territory was always palestine just write "1" and everyone who thinks that territory was never palestine just write "2" and everyone who thinks it's a little of both or neither just write "0" - and then we can just take turns commenting 1...2....2...0...1....1... ad infinitum.

Or we could just stop. Y'know, whatever's cool.
posted by jardinier at 6:43 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can I suggest that going into threads about Israel with your OMG ISRAEL APOLOGIST guns abalazing might not be the best way to encourage civil discussion?

Oh the irony.
posted by DU at 6:46 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the Salon article, Kushner says:

"I accepted the kind offer of a degree from John Jay College not because I need another award, but because I was impressed with the students and teachers there -- as I have always been impressed with CUNY teachers and students -- and I wanted to participate in celebrating their accomplishment," wrote Kushner. "I did not expect to be publicly defamed as a result, and I believe I am owed an apology for the careless way in which my name and reputation were handled at your meeting."

I have to say, I agree, and think he deserves an apology.
posted by jardinier at 6:48 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh the irony.

And what would that be, pray tell?
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:11 PM on May 4, 2011


South Africa had defenders who leaped to it's cause anytime people pointed the whole nature of Apartheid too.

Nothing like the firepower of American-Israeli lobby. It's like MLB vs little league... soccer.

Interestingly, he's also on the board of the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre, "the country's sole surviving professional Yiddish theater."

Which I will not attend until he is removed from the board, and would encourage others to do likewise.


Oh, snap

It's on, y'all!
posted by codswallop at 7:43 PM on May 4, 2011


Hey, one does what one can. It's not so very big a theater that it can afford to alienate potential audience members, and there aren't many people in my generation familiar enough with Yiddish to be willing to support a Yiddish theater. I'm one of the few, and they have lost my support.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:57 PM on May 4, 2011


On the Yiddish theater - I bet they hate him as much as everyone at CUNY does and everywhere else he's 'on the board.' When I've worked for non-profits it has never been glowing praise flowing among the staff once the board members were out of the room.
posted by jardinier at 8:23 PM on May 4, 2011


Why is Israel so important to the right wing? The answer is in two words: premillenial dispensationalism. From the group that brings you fear of a one-world currency, the United Nations as a staging ground for global despotism, and casting a man of peace as the potential Antichrist, Israel must exist in order to be destroyed during the Tribulation. Anyone who suggests a diminishment of Israel prior to that post-Rapture event is clearly an agent of Hell attempting to thwart prophecy. I wish that I were joking.
posted by Errant at 9:52 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure why I'm getting into this with you Postroad but you've just supported your claim that the area now referred to as Palestine was never called Palestine with examples of it being referred to as Palestine. It. Does. Not. Matter. when or how people started referring to it as Palestine, that's what it's been called since they started talking about creating states there in the early 20th Century. Why does it matter when Arabs started calling it that? This is not germane to the question of whether the Palestinians have the right to their own state. Or anything else. It's at best a contentious bit of trivia of dubious veracity.
posted by Hoopo at 9:58 PM on May 4, 2011


Never said they ought not have their own state. Said they should not also have Israel's state, which Hamas again stated this past week.
posted by Postroad at 3:43 AM on May 5, 2011


Can it be clear at some point that "being critical of Israel" and "saying Israel doesn't have a right to exist" are two completely different things and the latter is NOT FUCKING OK?

I'm not going to comment on whether Kushner was wronged by the decision of the board, though I have a gut feeling he probably was. It is not a reason for us to brush off a very anti-semitic position he has held.
posted by falameufilho at 4:34 AM on May 5, 2011


falameufilho: would you accept a state that only allowed white Christian citizens full rights? I think this is the issue with Israel. While everyone recognizes the reasons Israel was formed, if it has special privileges for one ethnicity and special punishments for another, it can't possibly be a modern secular democracy.

Any state with special privileges for Muslim or Jewish or Christian citizens is illegitimate in my view. And saying that is perfectly reasonable and germane, and it should never prevent any scholar from receiving recognition to bring this rather simple issue up.
posted by notion at 5:29 AM on May 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


falameufilho: the point of academic freedom is that it's always ok to say anything, take any position and have a discussion about it. It's not OK to decide what views are or are not acceptable as topics of discussion, but it is always ok to refute anything said with your own argument. So, no, I don't agree. It might not be useful or interesting or defensible to say "Israel doesn't have a right to exist." But that doesn't represent the nuanced views of any critics of Israel aside from knee-jerk extremists, who are little different from those who say "Israel has a right to do whatever it wants."
posted by jardinier at 5:40 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


And clearly from his letter in response, and other statements, Kushner falls into the category of someone with a complex, well thought-out view. He's not an extremist in the situation, and is certainly less of an extremist than Koch.
posted by jardinier at 5:43 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


UPDATE: Inside Higher Ed picks up the story.
posted by jardinier at 6:20 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


notion, there's a difference between being critical and being anti-semitic. You can say "Israel has no right to occupy the West Bank and is violating international law there". Or "Israel treats its Arab citizens as second class and that should be corrected". Those are very fair statements that do not deny the state of Israel its right to exist.

However, those statements are completely different from saying that Israel was founded on a program of ethnic cleansing and that it would be better if the country didn't exist. Sorry, but these two affirmations are anti-semitic no matter how you look at it, because they place the burden of the conflict exclusively on those meddling Jews who had no business in Palestine and should just go back to wherever hey came (remember Helen Thomas?).

jardinier, as I said, I am not debating the decision of the board. Kushner was very likely treated unfairly there. However, that doesn't make his statements about the state of Israel something that should be taken in such a cavalier manner. What he said was appalling.
posted by falameufilho at 9:26 AM on May 5, 2011


Having said that, I just read his response letter on the Jewish Week, and I think he has thoroughly explained himself. The quotes on the original Jewish Week article were very damaging.
posted by falameufilho at 9:33 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


there was no Palestinian state. Ever. If you think so, show me.

Are you really suggesting that the area now marked as Israel was nothing but empty, unoccupied land in 1945? That it sprung from the Middle East like Las Vegas from the desert sands… one minute there was nothing and nobody, the next, infrastructure, urban centers, roads, people?

I see this quibbling over minutiae like definitions of state akin to the birthers that still refuse to admit Obama is our president. Whether there was a formal, sanctified, State of Palestine or whether it was simply generally understood to exist, does this somehow make it fine-and-dandy to kick people out of their homes? Tell them they can never be a part of the government of the lands they live in and their ancestors live in because they practice the wrong religion?

Doesn't that sound just a little hypocritical to you? Particularly considering this was precisely the sort of treatment they had just survived themselves.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:13 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can it be clear at some point that "being critical of Israel" and "saying Israel doesn't have a right to exist" are two completely different things and the latter is NOT FUCKING OK?

"NOT FUCKING OK" seems to carry a lot more baggage than merely "incorrect".

I mean, if I said "Kurdistan" has no right to exist, many people would enthusiastically agree -- and many would strongly disagree, but that's my point: the existence of Kurdistan is open for discussion.

Israel, on the other hand, is sacrosanct, its existence not open for discussion.

What's the difference? How do you logically justify a "can't discuss" policy on Israel?
posted by orthogonality at 10:23 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


How can a political entity like a nation have a right to exist in the first place?
posted by kafziel at 10:40 AM on May 5, 2011


However, those statements are completely different from saying that Israel was founded on a program of ethnic cleansing and that it would be better if the country didn't exist.

One party is forcibly removing another based solely on their ethnicity. I know you may not like the connotations, but the facts do matter, and can't be ignored because you don't like them. I do think a democratic nation in the area of Palestine that had no special rules for either ethnicity would be much better than the current partition that seems to be a lightning rod for violence in the region.

Sorry, but these two affirmations are anti-semitic no matter how you look at it, because they place the burden of the conflict exclusively on those meddling Jews who had no business in Palestine

Try to remove emotion from your argument. If the Zionist movement had chosen somewhere besides Palestine to make their homeland, would that geographical area be as it is today? Would there be millions of refugees and constant warfare if there had been no huge influx of immigrants and introduction of force to achieve their objectives militarily?

To dismiss all of that as anti-Semitism is piss poor response to an important question: are movements like militant Zionism inherently racist? I would say yes, and you may disagree, but that doesn't mean that I am prejudiced against any Jewish person based on their ethnicity.

Any political movement that goes beyond the preservation of their own culture into denying other races equal rights is plainly and simply wrong. A militant Zionist believes that I cannot be an equal citizen in their country because I'm the wrong race. I'm going to call that racism, because that's what it is.

And to be perfectly clear, I am not calling anyone here a racist. I am stating that militant Zionism is inherently racist.
posted by notion at 11:19 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


orthogonality: "I mean, if I said "Kurdistan" has no right to exist, many people would enthusiastically agree -- and many would strongly disagree, but that's my point: the existence of Kurdistan is open for discussion."

Except you're making the wrong point - nobody is discussing the right of Kurdistan to exist. Nobody gives a shit. The most arbitrarily created nation-states in the planet, nations in Asia or Africa with borders created by a bored British colonial official with a map and a pencil, these nations do not have their legitimacy debated, never.

The point is not "why can't I discuss Israel's right to exist"? The point is "why is Israel the only nation on the planet that needs to fight for its right to exist, 60 years and change after its Independence and almost universal recognition"?

Legitimacy and rule over other lands is granted without much of a thought. Jewish rule over Israel is always treated as something transient. Israel is there now - it might not be there tomorrow. Last year someone as mainstream as Helen Thomas said that the Jews should get out of Israel and go back to Germany or Poland.

Interestingly this was my biggest shock when I went to Israel for the first time last year - I was shocked to see that I was surprised at how "Israeli" things were. I guess on an unconscious level this transience that people assign to Israel has gotten to me, and I expected to see sort of a massive European expat gated condominium, surrounded by Arabs on all sides. Something that looked, sounded and smelled foreign and that could be removed tomorrow and the land would go back to its old ways. But no - there's a culture and a language and a people that distinctively belong there, and you can't yank them out and move them somewhere else. Israel, in that sense, is very permanent. That may sound obvious when I say it, but when you hear people day in and day out singling out Israel out of all other nations so its own existence needs to be defended and debated, well, it opens the door for this kind of cognitive dissonance.
posted by falameufilho at 11:38 AM on May 5, 2011


"why is Israel the only nation on the planet that needs to fight for its right to exist"

That's just completely not the case. The process of constructing nation-states is a very new thing in our history, and it has always been an enormous struggle and continues to be so, especially for all of those people who are left out, locked in, or trapped on the boundaries of these completely artificially (read geo-political-racial-ethnic-social-class-language) constructed boundaries.

The USA has a civil war in our not too distant past about these same questions. Just recently in South Sudan, a referendum made that area the world's newest country. And 33 other countries have been created since 1990, many of those have been wrapped up in war or the dissolution of larger states and the processes of transition and constructing their nation-state identity have not been easy or smooth.
posted by jardinier at 11:43 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


UPDATES:

Ellen Schrecker of Yeshiva University has written to CUNY to ask how she can return the honorary degree they granted her:

"I received my honorary degree from CUNY because of my scholarship on the McCarthy period, when over one hundred professors (including at least fifteen from the New York City municipal colleges) lost their jobs for political reasons," writes Schrecker. "I assume that no one within CUNY’s Board of Trustees or administration wants a repeat of those dark days. Certainly, the John Jay faculty and administration, whose judgment the CUNY Trustees overrode, realize the value of academic freedom today."


And Wiesenfeld writes an op-ed defending his decision:

"If his libelous statements against Israel were made by anyone outside the Jewish community, that person would be correctly labeled an anti-Semite. 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."
posted by jardinier at 11:52 AM on May 5, 2011


notion: "One party is forcibly removing another based solely on their ethnicity. I know you may not like the connotations, but the facts do matter, and can't be ignored because you don't like them."

"If the Zionist movement had chosen somewhere besides Palestine to make their homeland, would that geographical area be as it is today? Would there be millions of refugees and constant warfare if there had been no huge influx of immigrants and introduction of force to achieve their objectives militarily?"

See what I mean by placing the burden exclusively on the shoulders of the Jews? You call out on "ethnic cleansing" by Israelis who uprooted Arab populations, but you forget that this was a reaction to an invasion by at least four large armies from neighboring hostile nations. You entertain the idea that if the Jews decided to go somewhere else, everything in the Middle East today would be peaches and cream - and that's an immoral fallacy.

Also, while I agree that there is a minority of Zionists who is racist, specially in the Ultra Zionist fringe, I completely disagree that Zionism is inherently racist. Saying that Zionism is inherently racist is one of those demonizing generalizations that accomplish nothing, like saying Islam is inherently sympathetic to terrorism.
posted by falameufilho at 11:57 AM on May 5, 2011


jardinier: "The USA has a civil war in our not too distant past about these same questions. Just recently in South Sudan, a referendum made that area the world's newest country. And 33 other countries have been created since 1990, many of those have been wrapped up in war or the dissolution of larger states and the processes of transition and constructing their nation-state identity have not been easy or smooth."

Jardinier, I don't see how any of your examples apply. The civil war was an internal war for secession, it had nothing to do with the recognition of legitimacy. These countries created since 1990 have had their legitimacies unquestioned once they were recognized by the international community. Israel's independence was 60 years ago and you would think it was last week by the level of the debate.

Going back to the original subject: the quotes on the Jewish Week original article showed Kushner saying it would have been better if Israel didn't exist. My point is that Israel is the only country in the world whose existence gets challenged in such a cavalier manner, every single day. Which is interesting when you think that the creation of the State of Israel is a direct consequence of Hitler's failed attempt to completely exterminate the Jewish people. It's hard not to think that people who say that sound like they wish Hitler had succeeded.
posted by falameufilho at 12:08 PM on May 5, 2011


We are derailing. I will join a meta if you would like me to respond.
posted by notion at 12:14 PM on May 5, 2011


UPDATE: The Guardian picks up the story.
posted by jardinier at 12:24 PM on May 5, 2011


In other news, I just found out Kushner co-wrote the screenplay for Munich.
posted by falameufilho at 12:41 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a shame that Kushner's significant contributions to the English language drama canon are being overlooked in this crazy thread - the very reason he has received so many honorary awards and degrees to this date! Even Brandeis gave him an honorary degree.
I am so disappointed that his name has been dragged down like this.
posted by msali at 12:56 PM on May 5, 2011


UPDATE: The NYT article on the story.
posted by jardinier at 12:59 PM on May 5, 2011


Legitimacy and rule over other lands is granted without much of a thought. Jewish rule over Israel is always treated as something transient.

Well, as jardinier pints out, that's a very ahistorical perspective.

Look at Poland, for example, partitioned variously by Austria, Swedenn, Germany and Russia, its borders swinging back and forth, pierced by corridors, depending upon which of its neighbors was ascendant. For most of Poland's 1000 years as a people/kingdo/nation-state.

Or look at "Germany", which wasn't a state until the late 1800s. "The Germans" were a language group and an ethnicity long before they were a nation-state.

Israel isn't being treated any differently -- in fact, Israel's being treated better. It's just that we tend to measure "nationhood" against the most successful and long lasting Western nations (Britain, France, Spain), while ignoring their own civil wars and internal strife.
posted by orthogonality at 1:35 PM on May 5, 2011


The civil war was an internal war for secession, it had nothing to do with the recognition of legitimacy.

Uh, it had everything to do with the question of the legitimacy of Federal supremacy versus the sovereignty of individual states. Succession is about claiming legitimate sovereignty.

And again, this is something Germans, Poles, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Somalis all faced. Wiesenfeld in his OPED calls Israel "a nation in a struggle for its survival from the beginning", but all nations begin in struggle.

If they didn't, every Libertarian yahoo with a fence and gate would set up his own nation and customs house/tollbooth.

And most new nations fail, many are attacked by their neighbors. The ETA has consistently failed to found a nation, despite using tactics similar to those used by the founders of Israel. The "Real" IRA hasn't gotten the nation they want. Ukrainians had to wait a thousand years for sovereignty. Guys in Georgia are still waiting for the South to Rise Again, and guys in the other Georgia, only sovereign since 1991, nervously watch Russia for a repeat of their annexation by the old Russian Empire in 1800.

Sure, their are unique things about Israel (the official language was essentially dead as a conversational language until it was revived for use, by and in the service of, the nation state). But really, Israel is not as unprecedented in history as some of its backers (and pre-millennialists) like to think. Much of that thinking seems to be rooted in (religiously informed) parochialism.
posted by orthogonality at 1:55 PM on May 5, 2011


Huh, reading up on the Kristopher Petersen-Overton firing, it amazes me that this Wiesenfeld character is still on the board, given the reaction of the CUNY faculty to his meddling. Anyone not grinding an axe would have resigned out of shame.
posted by orthogonality at 2:14 PM on May 5, 2011


However, those statements are completely different from saying that Israel was founded on a program of ethnic cleansing and that it would be better if the country didn't exist.

He has claimed he was taken out of context, and on your second point you are taking him out of context--he's talking about the creation of Israel, not the "existence" of Israel. As far as I can tell, the quotes from Kushner are taken from an interview he did with Haaretz in 2004:

Ha’aretz reporter: But you are saying that the very creation of Israel as a Jewish state was not a good idea.

Kushner: I think it was a mistake.


He elaborates in the same interview:

"Zionism aimed as the establishment of a national identity is predicated on a reading of Jewish history and an interpretation of the meaning of Jewish history I don’t share. Insofar as Zionism is an idea that the solution to the suffering of the Jewish people was the establishment of a Jewish nation, I think it is not the right answer."


Sorry, but these two affirmations are anti-semitic no matter how you look at it, because they place the burden of the conflict exclusively on those meddling Jews who had no business in Palestine and should just go back to wherever hey came (remember Helen Thomas?)


It's not anti-semitic. It can be argued that happened in Israel after 1948 fits the definition of ethnic cleansing. It can also be argued that what happened in the neighboring Arab states was also ethnic cleansing of Jews. I think that's an easier argument to make, frankly, but in both examples people were forced from their homes and the use of force and fear were involved.
posted by Hoopo at 2:20 PM on May 5, 2011


The most arbitrarily created nation-states in the planet, nations in Asia or Africa with borders created by a bored British colonial official with a map and a pencil, these nations do not have their legitimacy debated, never.

That's because the lines aren't what matters, what matters is that the people inside those lines are developing and moving forward. The overwhelming tendency of nations and civilization in general over the past four hundred years has been a move away from theocracies and a steady severing of the ties between religion and state—and for very good reason, as Israel has been a perfect case-study for. The big one is that it's far too easy to discriminate and disenfranchise citizens because of their religious beliefs. That's precisely how Israel is set up, with their ludicrously double-speaky a Jewish and Democratic State—just-don't-call-us-a-theocracy—nonsense. Why must it be Jewish? Because it must be Jewish, it's right there in black and white: a Jewish and Democratic State. And if you want to change it to just be "a Democratic State"—if you think that, you're automatically ineligible for the Knesset. That's actually the law. So automatically any conversation that in any way challenges these beliefs makes you ineligible to effectively challenge the beliefs. This is the precise opposite of the scientific, rational methods that have propelled humanity and the rest of civilization forward since the Enlightenment.

You cannot have a religious, democratic state. It is an oxymoron.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:36 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


orthogonality: "The ETA has consistently failed to found a nation, despite using tactics similar to those used by the founders of Israel."

OK, I really think we should stop derailing this thread. But what you said above is hard to ignore.

Did I fall asleep and miss the vote on the United Nations Partition Plan for the Iberian Peninsula, where a majority of UN members voted for the creation of a Basque state?

The analogy between the founders of Israel and ETA is false. Compare ETA to the Stern Gang all you want, but do not extend the comparison the whole of the Zionist movement. The Basque country and Israel have absolutely no parallel. Not to mention ETA is trying to establish a country where there is one already, and Israel was established in the vacuum of the British Mandate which was established in the vacuum of the Ottoman Empire and so on. Palestine hadn't have an independent government for hundreds and hundreds of years.

The difference between Israel and your other examples of nations struggling for unity or recognition is that Israel has jumped through all the necessary hoops in international law to establish a state. They got the paperwork in order, the institutions, the UN vote, the recognition, everything. Any other modern nation that went through this process the way Israel went through it does not have to have a constant ideological fight for its right to exist. Why Israel?
posted by falameufilho at 5:47 PM on May 5, 2011


UPDATE: Ed Koch, one of this years honorary degree recipients has written a letter of support for Kushner and called on Wiesenfeld to resign.
posted by jardinier at 6:36 PM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


This blogger makes an interesting point about one thing that sets Israel apart from these other examples of modern nation-states coming into being, the founding of the nation with the intent to remove or displace people:

"Wiesenfeld considers anyone a racist who states simple historical fact: that driving Palestinians from their homes was part and parcel of Israel’s creation. This is a fact not open to debate; it is clearly recorded in no less a source than the Hagana archives. Tochnit Dalet (Plan D) clearly called for emptying and destroying Palestinian towns.

The historical debate is over the intent of this plan, not over its existence or execution. Even if you subscribe to the more sympathetic view of that intent, the event – that Palestinians were driven from their homes and not allowed to return – is not in dispute. Except, of course, in the mind of bigots like Wiesenfeld who purport that Israeli motives and actions are always pure and Arab ones always nefarious."
posted by jardinier at 6:46 PM on May 5, 2011


The Koch thing is interesting. Astro Zombie's link explains that Wiesenfeld was attacking a "dual lan­guage Ara­bic Eng­lish pub­lic school" school for "supporting terrorism", and asked for Koch's assistance, but Koch found Wiesenfeld too zealous, saying: "Not Jeff [Wiesenfeld]. He was for not open­ing the school. He did not believe any school devoted to Arab cul­ture should be per­mit­ted to open."

Of course, the other interesting subtext is that Koch is Jewish and gay.

Oh, and he's a very skillful politician, who has always known what way the wind is blowing, so if he's calling on Wiesenfeld to resign, it probably means Wiesenfeld's overplayed his hand and pissed off too many people.
posted by orthogonality at 6:47 PM on May 5, 2011


UPDATE: Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic says "Give Tony Kushner His Award, Dammit"
posted by jardinier at 6:55 PM on May 5, 2011


Hey, jardinier: great work with these updates, thank you.
posted by orthogonality at 7:13 PM on May 5, 2011


Oh wow.

Wiesenfeld engages in eliminationist rhetoric in a New York Times interview: Palestinians, he claims "are not human".
I started to ask a question: Given the vigor of arguments about Middle East politics, including the survival of Israel and the rights of the Palestinians, which side is more callous toward human life, who is most protective of it? But Mr. Wiesenfeld interrupted and said the question was offensive because “the comparison sets up a moral equivalence.”

Equivalence between what and what?

“Between the Palestinians and Israelis,” he said. “People who worship death for their children are not human.”

Did he mean the Palestinians were not human?

“They have developed a culture which is unprecedented in human history,” he said.
Curiously, this reminds me of what I mentioned up-thread: the tendency of the State of Israel's advocates to see its situation as unique, ahistorical, or in Wiesenfeld's words, "unprecedented in human history".

I guess part of that is that if Israel's situation has no precedent, you can't compare it's treatment of Palestinians to any other regime's treatment of minority or oppressed enthnicities. And part of it is the belief by religious Zionists that God has given the land to the Jews, thus presumably making anything to hold onto the land OK in God's eyes. And being unprecedented means you get to make up your own rules, as you go along, which is always convenient.

But of course, there's nothing new under the Sun (as Ecclesiastes tells us), and all that's happening in Israel has happened before in many palace -- and if you believe the Book, in the same place, with the same excuse ("God told us to"), 5000 years ago.
posted by orthogonality at 7:35 PM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Orthogonality - your inclusion of religion and a supposed "god-given right" to the land of Israel is an annoying diversion, and you're kind of moving the goal posts there. We were talking about international law, recognition and the UN. Those are the basis of Israel's right to exist, not the nutjobs who take the Torah literally.
posted by falameufilho at 8:00 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stephen M. Walt posts on the story in Foreign Policy:

"But in this case the CUNY board blew it big-time, both because Weisenfeld's accusations were off-base but also because they would not have been grounds for denying Kushner an honorary degree even if they had been true. And meekly caving as they did is contrary to the principles of intellectual freedom that universities are supposed to defend. The end result is that this incident will get a lot more attention than awarding the degree would have garnered (Kushner already has several), and the board's shameful lack of vertebrae has been publicly exposed.

And why does this matter for foreign policy? Because as John Mearsheimer and I wrote a few years ago: "America will be better served if its citizens were exposed to the range of views about Israel common to most of the world's democracies, including Israel itself. . . Both the United States and Israel face vexing challenges. . .and neither country will benefit by silencing those who support a new approach. This does not mean that critics are always right, of course, but their suggestions deserves at least as much consideration as the failed policies that key groups in the [Israel] lobby have backed in recent years" (pp. 351-52)."
posted by jardinier at 8:34 PM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Times is all over this story, another one here.
posted by jardinier at 8:40 PM on May 5, 2011


And again here in Arts Beat .
posted by jardinier at 8:41 PM on May 5, 2011


Orthogonality - your inclusion of religion and a supposed "god-given right" to the land of Israel is an annoying diversion, and you're kind of moving the goal posts there. We were talking about international law, recognition and the UN. Those are the basis of Israel's right to exist, not the nutjobs who take the Torah literally.

For what reason, other than religious belief, do Zionists stake their claim on Israel?
posted by contessa at 8:51 PM on May 5, 2011


Contessa, first there's an historic perspective. Jews have ruled that land until 70AD, and their expulsion had enourmous cultural impact in the Jewish psyche. Second, zionism was not a religious movement in its origins, but rather a very secular, socialist inspired ideology of national liberation from the racial oppression in Europe. Israeli society is very much secular. And curiously one of the biggest focus of anti-zionism within Israel come from the ultra orthodox sects that see the creation of a Jewish state before the coming of the Messiah as anathema.

This attitude of blaming everything on the religious right is a weird manifestation of the "reductio ad bushium".
posted by falameufilho at 9:56 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


For what reason, other than religious belief, do Zionists stake their claim on Israel?

I'm not sure if that's a straightforward question, or a rhetorical one, but in either case it displays a lack of knowledge about the history of modern Zionism. For the most part, modern European Zionism was not a religious movement. Indeed, during the growth of the movement, from the late 19th century through roughly the first half of the 20th century, Zionism was opposed by many religiously conservative Jews on the basis (broadly) that it disrupted the divine plan for the world. "Next year in Jersualem," is a saying that's part of many Seder services (during Passover), and it has distinctly religious, and not Zionist, overtones. During the British Mandate there was a religious but anti-Zionist group of Jews living in Palestine. Further, the Zionist movement argued internally about the best place to found a Jewish state. Places as far afield as South America had substantial support.

However, political realities radically changed those debates. There was substantial growth of Anti-Semitism in Europe in the time between the World Wars, particularly, though not exclusively, in Germany. Many Jews fled to other countries, and one of those countries, particularly a bit early on, was British administered Palestine. This made sense to many, as Israel/Palestine was viewed as an ancestral homeland, even if not a religious one. Post-war, the situation got obviously more complicated. But, again, politics and not religion was the important determinant of the UN vote to partition Palestine and create Israel. That part of Palestine became Israel was not the "fault" of the Jews, it was the "fault" of the state of the world, in which six million Jews had just been slaughtered in a deliberate genocide, and the state of the post-colonial maneuvering of Western powers. Failing to account for those factors in any discussion of the subject is disingenuous at best.

The situation now, of course, is quite different. Now, there is a distinctly religious motivation behind calls to create "Greater Israel," although there are also secular hawks that think that would provide the most security for the Israeli state.
posted by OmieWise at 5:11 AM on May 6, 2011


Update: Wiesenfeld: 'My Mother Would Call Tony Kushner a Kapo'
"My mother would call Tony Kushner a kapo," he said in a telephone conversation earlier this morning. "Kapos" were Jews who worked for the Germans in concentration camps. "If I'm confronted by anti-Semitism in my face, I'm going to call it out." I asked him if he had any doubt Kushner was an anti-Semite. He said: "Anyone who accuses the Jews of ethnic-cleansing is participating in a blood libel, so yes, he's a Jewish anti-Semite.
Oh boy.

In the same article, Wiesenfeld double-down on his eliminationist rhetoric:
I asked him about these quotes in The Times: "I told (the writer), people who worship the death of their children are not humans. Did I say all of them do? No. I would say that every Palestinian who supports the development of their child into a shahid (martyr) is not human."
posted by orthogonality at 8:28 AM on May 6, 2011


Jesus.

Anyone who accuses the Jews of ethnic-cleansing is participating in a blood libel, so yes, he's a Jewish anti-Semite.

I also, logically, have no idea what this means.
posted by OmieWise at 8:49 AM on May 6, 2011


UPDATE: CUNY to Consider Restoring Award to Tony Kushner
Benno C. Schmidt Jr., the chairman of CUNY since 2003, issued a statement on Friday afternoon saying that he believed that board members had “made a mistake of principle, and not merely of policy” in failing to award the degree to Mr. Kushner earlier this week.

. . .

The executive committee consists of 7 of the board’s 17 members, including Mr. Schmidt, a former president of Yale University. It is expected to approve the degree for Mr. Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Angels in America,” since several of the executive members had previously voted in favor.
posted by orthogonality at 1:40 PM on May 6, 2011


Contessa, first there's an historic perspective. Jews have ruled that land until 70AD, and their expulsion had enourmous cultural impact in the Jewish psyche.

That is not at all unique to the Jewish Experience. Not only is it not unique, it's practically universal.

Besides, that's exactly the sort of thing that's having an "enormous cultural impact" on the Palestinian psyche right now -- not just in some mythical fairyland of two thousand years ago.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:44 PM on May 6, 2011


Sys Rq: "That is not at all unique to the Jewish Experience. Not only is it not unique, it's practically universal."

I never claimed it was unique. Contessa asked why do Jews stake their claim on Israel. I said that's one of the factors.

Can you define what you mean by "practically universal"? Because we're talking about a two thousand year experience of exile where the language, the costumes and the memory of the place that was lost was kept even under the harshest of circumstances. Every year of Tisha B'Av Jews sit on the floor and read about the destruction of the temple. Every year on Pessach the festive meal ends with "next year in Jerusalem". Maybe it's just me, but this looks like a very particular take on the exile experience, especially considering the timespan.

Sys Rq: "Besides, that's exactly the sort of thing that's having an "enormous cultural impact" on the Palestinian psyche right now -- not just in some mythical fairyland of two thousand years ago."

The current state of affairs being very harsh for the Palestinians doesn't make the Jewish situation a walk on the park, and doesn't delegitimize the State of Israel, which is my original point. Having said that, I have no idea what you meant by this comment.
posted by falameufilho at 7:36 PM on May 6, 2011


Their web site has been up and down a bit, but when it's up the CUNY Graduate Center newspaper, The Advocate - is the best source for constant updates on the issue I've found.
posted by jardinier at 8:30 PM on May 6, 2011


And the New York Times editorial on the situation is up:

"CUNY Shamed Itself"

"The trustees of the City University of New York got it exactly backward this week. They supported the political agenda of an intolerant board member and shunned one of America’s most important playwrights. They should have embraced the artist and tossed out the board member..."
posted by jardinier at 8:33 PM on May 6, 2011


The current state of affairs being very harsh for the Palestinians doesn't make the Jewish situation a walk on the park, and doesn't delegitimize the State of Israel, which is my original point. Having said that, I have no idea what you meant by this comment.

I'm saying that angle is preposterously hypocritical.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:21 AM on May 7, 2011


Because we're talking about a two thousand year experience of exile where the language, the costumes and the memory of the place that was lost was kept even under the harshest of circumstances. Every year of Tisha B'Av Jews sit on the floor and read about the destruction of the temple. Every year on Pessach the festive meal ends with "next year in Jerusalem".

You ever have an elderly relative, an elderly relative you love, even revere for the wisdom they've acquired over long years of struggle, but they get to that age when all they want to talk about is their various illnesses and afflictions, seemingly needing to "one-up" their elderly friends in enumerating in great detail the nature and severity of one problem after another?

I mean, I've had my own health problems, and I completely get how they make you turn inward, where monitoring your own body's health becomes ritualistic obsession.

But ultimately, begin so concerned with your own health and well-being is a turning inwards that prevents you from enjoying what life has to offer, makes it a little tedious even for your loving relatives to listen to you go on and on about about the details of your pains, your pills, and every procedure you've had and every nice young doctor you've consulted.

Cultures can age too, turn inward, spend most of their time concentrating on ritual recounting of pain.
posted by orthogonality at 12:39 PM on May 7, 2011


(Note I'm not saying this from some Christian perspective, that Judaism is the "old way" and Christianity the new, more vigorous path. Just that while it's good and necessary to mourn, to remember, to connect with one's roots, that shouldn't occupy all of one's life.)
posted by orthogonality at 12:43 PM on May 7, 2011


Orthogonality, please pick the point you want to debate. We were discussing whether or not there was an uniqueness to the Jewish experience and you have changed the subject to whether or not the Jewish attitude towards the past is "healthy"? Srlsy, WTF?
posted by falameufilho at 5:26 PM on May 8, 2011


UPDATES:

The coverage of the issue is increasingly identifying the decision as terribly embarrassing for CUNY and predicting a retraction and a re-vote offering Kushner the degree at the hastily called meeting scheduled for tonight at 6pm.

The Brian Lehrer show on WNYC covers the issue.

The Guardian continues to report updates on the issue.

New York Times cityroom blog posts as well.

Other than the editorial by Wiesenfeld, I haven't found any articles supporting his position. Anyone who finds any, please share, I'd be interested to see them.
posted by jardinier at 12:45 PM on May 9, 2011


UPDATES

The New York Times reports:
"In Reversal, City University Trustees Approve Honorary Degree for Tony Kushner"

Salon reports:
"Kushner to get honorary degree after Israel flap:
City University of New York reverses decision to block an honor for Tony Kushner over his views on Israel
"
posted by jardinier at 6:52 PM on May 9, 2011


And, the GC Advocate reports that Kushner has changed his mind and agreed to accept the award and speak at John Jay College's graduation.
posted by jardinier at 6:57 PM on May 9, 2011


Playwright Tony Kushner Speaks Out on CUNY Controversy, Academic Freedom and Israel
posted by homunculus at 8:49 AM on May 10, 2011


Mr. Wiesenfeld is not on the executive committee. On Monday evening, his spokesman, Hank Sheinkopf, said: “Jeffrey Wiesenfeld voted to take a principled position on what he considered to be unfair attacks on the State of Israel. He intends to remain on the board until the expiration of his term.”
Why does Wiesenfeld need a personal spokesman?
posted by orthogonality at 7:20 PM on May 10, 2011


Ah, Hank Sheinkopf is a Democratic fixer, campaign-hand, and lobbyist.
posted by orthogonality at 7:24 PM on May 10, 2011


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