Players: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner; Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, board member of the City University of New York.
Opening Serve: CUNY's John Jay College was to award Kushner with an honorary degree, but decided to reverse course when Wiesenfeld, one of the University's trustees, objected, claiming Kushner is anti-Israel. According to The Jewish Week:
When people identify themselves with "these types of viewpoints," Wiesenfeld told his fellow trustees, "it's up to all of us to look at fairness and consider these things," especially when Israel sits in such a hostile neighborhood. "There's a lot of disingenuousness and non-intellectual activity directed against the State of Israel on campuses across the country,"
Return Volley: An angry Kushner wrote the University's board and the college a letter in which, according to The New York Observer, he argues that Weisenfeld offered "a grotesque caricature of my political beliefs regarding the state of Israel, concocted out of three carefully cropped, context-less quotes taken from interviews I've given, the mention of my name on the blog of someone with whom I have no connection whatsoever, and the fact that I serve on the advisory board of a political organization with which Mr. Weisenfeld strongly disagrees."
What They Say the Fight's About: Wiesenfeld does't believe the University should honor someone with anti-Israel views. Kushner insists that the quotes Wiesenfeld used as evidence of his anti-Israel position were taken out of context and don't reflect his actual opinion.
What the Fight's Really About: If we are to take Kushner at his word, this fight exemplifies how difficult it is to filter out the truth from the influx of rumors provided by the Internet. Wiesenfeld may have Internet-provided proof of Kushner's loyalties but only Kushner himself knows what his opinion really is. It's his word against the Internet which, we know, can be an uphill battle. Additionally, this fight taps into a larger, ongoing debate over whether it is okay to be anti-Israel, what being anti-Israel means, and why one can be effectively discriminated against over Israel but, usually, not over any other political beliefs one holds. Have a look at how The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg weighs in on the Kushner matter:
Kushner is critical of Israel, yes, and I don't think he actually understands much about the Middle East, but I'm not sure this is the business of the City University of New York...I think his discomfort with Jewish power is mainly misplaced, but turning him into a free-speech martyr? Is that what a handful of Jews want to do with their political power? In any case, if those Jews on the right are trying to marginalize his opinions, this is certainly not the way to do it.
Who's Winning Now: Kushner's chances of changing the board's mind seem slim. The Observer explains that "The CUNY board did not so much reject John Jay College's decision to award Kushner an honorary degree, but tabled the discussion until the next board meeting. Because the board does not meet again until after the school year, they have effectively denied Kushner the degree." But even if they did decide to reconsider, Kushner has "no intention of ever accepting an award from CUNY," he told the paper.
Photo by Reuters, 123nonstop.com