Following our consensus decision to table the honorary degree nomination of Mr. Tony Kushner it is worthy to note that Mr. Kushner repeats the ugly charges against Israel for which he is known in a letter to the City University Board of Trustees and the media, in which he attempts to defend himself. He is disingenuous and dissembling.
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.
I would no differently oppose a racist for an honorary degree who personifies himself by calumny against a people. 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 .
To the contrary, an honorary degree is wholly within the absolute discretion of the board to grant. It identifies the University with accomplished, generous citizens or public figures. It is also a tool which highlights the University and enhances its image in the educational marketplace. Every year, there are candidates that some trustees may not particularly favor. We can all express dissent where we warrant it – it is our right. However, every nominee that has been brought before the board, during my 12 years at least, has been approved by the full board. Mr. Kushner, however, was opposed because he is an extremist. No extremist from any quarter is a good face for any University – from far left or far right. Honorary degrees are public declarations of esteem by the university community conveyed to the honoree; for the university, they are image-building, advertising and publicity as well.
The denial of the honorary degree to Mr. Kushner, despite his protestations was a reflection of his long-held radical sentiments. CUNY should remain a place of comfort and welcome for all of our students, faculty and administrators – including supporters of the Jewish State.
Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld is a trustee of City University New York.