Jewish Journal


May 9, 2011

CUNY Reverses Kushner Decision



Immediately after CUNY voted not to give an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner early last week, Bloggish predicted the university would reverse that decision.

The board began the process of reversing itself on Friday.  As The New York Times reported:

Under mounting pressure, the City University of New York board of trustees moved on Friday to reverse its decision earlier this week to withhold an honorary degree from the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner because of one trustee’s concerns about Mr. Kushner’s views regarding Israel.

Benno C. Schmidt Jr., chairman of the CUNY board since 2003, said in a statement that he believed the board had “made a mistake of principle, and not merely of policy,” in failing to approve the degree from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at its meeting on Monday. Mr. Schmidt scheduled a meeting for this coming Monday of the board’s seven-member executive committee, which has the power to reconsider any board decision that is detrimental to the university.

Trustees made the original decision based on the objections of one board member, not on a careful consideration of Kushner’s full statements on Israel. There can and should be a political litmus test for honorary degree recipients.  Who would want to grant one to someone who called for Israel’s, or any state’s, destruction?  But that is far, far from what Kushner has stated. 

“I can’t feel neutral about the state of Israel because I’m a Jew,” Kushner said in a public dialogue with me at the American Jewish University in 2007, “and I would like to see Israel survive and prosper. I absolutely don’t believe in single-state solution. I believe in a two-state solution. I’ve never anywhere on earth said I believe Israel should be forced to give up its identity as a Jewish state ... that obviously wouldn’t work. It would be the end of Israel.”  (You can hear the actual audio here.)

So CUNY is right to now give Kushner an honorary degree, which Kushner said he will accept.  So here’s a final prediction: he is going to whip up one whopper of an acceptance speech.


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