I suspect many, but not all of you, are aware of the recent controversy surrounding Tony Kushner’s receipt of an honorary degree from the City University of New York (CUNY). Here’s a brief recap.
Several weeks ago, John Jay College, (a member of the CUNY system) following standard procedure, submitted its request to the CUNY Board of trustees that Tony Kushner receive an honorary degree. Kushner is, of course, the Pulitzer prize-winning author of the play Angels in America, along with many other notable works. During their considerations Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who had been appointed by Republican former Governor Pataki and had been an aide to Republican former Senator D’Amato, attacked Kushner for being anti-Israel and urged the rejection of John Jay’s request. Seven of the 12 trustees voted to grant the degree anyway, but since a super majority of nine was required, the request was tabled. This is the first time a request for an honorary degree had been tabled since 1961.
A tremendous outcry ensued. The story made the front page of the New York Times. Under growing pressure, the executive committee of the CUNY Board of Trustees met in closed session and voted to confer the degree. Kushner, who called the attack by Wiesenfeld slander, and previously said he would no longer accept the degree even if it were offered, then reversed himself and accepted it because he did not want to disappoint the people at John Jay.
That much is widely known, but fewer are aware of the story behind the headlines. In early 2009 my older brother, Michael, retired from the faculty position he held for 40 years at Western New England College. Since then he’s been a visiting professor at John Jay. He’s organized two lecture series there: one in 2010 that focused on the 1950’s and one this year that covered the 1960’s. After Tony Kushner spoke at one of the events, my brother and another professor set in motion the process that resulted in Tony’s honorary degree nomination.
When the right wing discovered my brother’s involvement they went ballistic. Phyllis Chesler blogged: “When I first described the City University of New York as the Communist University of New York, I had no idea how right I was. It seems that Dr. Michael Meeropol, the son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, is one of two professors at John Jay College who nominated Tony Kushner for this honorary degree.” Another blogger stated that Chesler had “discovered who it was that started this mess. It turns out that it was none other than Michael Meeropol…. Meeropol is, of course, the son of Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg….”
It was presented as a nefarious leftist conspiracy. As one of the comments on Phyllis Chesler’s blog stated: “I am not surprised that one of the Meeropols, who were (in my opinion) the child victims of an injustice ... but who grew up to be the worst sort of left-wing conspiracy-mongers and cheerleaders/enablers of the ugliest political causes, and who instead of dealing with their grief and outrage in mature ways chose instead to build their entire lives and careers as professional grievance-mongers, were behind Kushner's nomination in the first place.”
It seems by the end of the quote above that I was also in on the plot. But I can’t take credit. I knew nothing about this until I read it in the newspapers. And my brother can’t even claim the honor of initiating this communist coup, since Tony’s already received 15 honorary degrees from other academic institutions. In any event, Tony Kushner’s brilliant literary achievements coupled with his presentation in my brother’s lecture series, plus the fact that he’d given so generously of his time to the students, made him an obvious candidate for an honorary degree from John Jay.
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I find it unbelievable that if a person supports honest negotiations for a two state solution, that person is automatically anti-Israel and if a person supports someone or a group that supports negotiations for a two state solution, that person is labeled anti-Israel and now it seems that person becomes a communist.
Marvellous! Great congratulations to Michael -- and through "guilt by relationship" to Robert even though he had nothing to do with it..
What Wiesenfeld attempted to do was idiotic and antithetical to democratic process. But you omit that, while wrong, he did it for a reason, a good reason:
Kushner is simply not, as "Anonymous" commented, in favor of honest negotiations for a two-state solution. Rather, he avowedly supports, wholeheartedly and with apparent relish, in word (which, from a prominent wordsmith, is substantively "deed") Israel- and, hence, Jew-hatred. His rhetoric far exceeds anything that can remotely reasonably and in context be termed legitimate critique of that state, and he has a long track record at it.
Let's be bluntly clear for a change: Those who seek to ramp up boycott/divestment/sanctions fervor against the Jewish state while ignoring far, far worse depradations by virtually every entity with borders in the world, are part and parcel of the concerted effort to destroy, not repair, that state, and Kushner is unarguably in their camp, deeply so, despite his double-spoken disavowals; further, his outspokenness arguably permeates and informs and gains from his artistic persona.
It can thus be very reasonably argued that Kushner ought never to have been offered the honorary degree in question, the bestowal of other similar honors nothwithstanding.
So, I directly hold your brother, and now, you, responsible, for not knowing better, and for cloaking the thing neatly and wholly in the anti-Communist business, when it is really only a diversion from the main matter: I and many, many others who are not only ultra-rightist but have seldom if ever even voted Republican, think the same way. You run to the extremes as a metier.
It's not O.K. to bash, one-sidedly and out of all proportion, as Kushner and other enemies of the Jewish state do, the Jewish state and the Jewish state alone, which has on two of its borders avowedly genocidal enemies designated terrorists by the U.S., the E.U., Canada and Australia, enemies that have long matched their words with parallel deeds and shed much innocent Jewish blood as policy.
While I understand, I think, why your brother and you would evidence this significant lapse in judgment vis-a-vis Israel- and Jew-hatred, owing to the ordeal your legacy has wrought upon you through no choice of your own, it ought not be ignored nor obscured. Notwithstanding your academic and other credentials, you are guilty of dwelling in the past and not learning from history, every bit as much as the anti-Communist hysterics you purport to erect as the straw man in this affair. Kushner should never have been denied the award via anti-democratic process, but should never have been offered it in the first place, because he embraces genocidal politics of hatred vis-a-vis Israel and Israel alone. (Such is the left's double-standard that it doesn't even see it when it is front and center). He deserves every bit of excoriating he gets over his vile embrace of (self) hatred, and you should learn from it, instead of giving such hatred a pass in the name of the old cold war politics. In failing at this, you are recapitulating your parents' and their hard-left colleagues' mistakes -- why could they not see that Stalin was a first-order Jew-hater even if surrounded by enough high-level Jewish "magnates" who helped him carry out his murderous agenda?
I was present at the protest at the Board of Trustees meeting last week that rescinded the outrageous attack on Tony Kushner, launched with considerable venom by Board member Weisenfeld--but initially supported by the whole Board. As everyone knows, the Board attempted to deny Tony Kushner the honorary degree that John Jay College intended to award to him. The CUNY Internationalist Club and the Class Struggle Education Workers also had a previous solidarity rally at the opening of Tony Kushner's excellent new play, "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism, with a Key to the Scripture," at the Public Theater in Greenwich Village. Few if any of us protesters, however, knew of this very important side of the story you just told. I would like generally to make known the greater extent of this Board witchhunt, with reference to your text. We have been reviving the historic call of the CUNY movement, to abolish the Board of Trustees, a group of millionaires, mainly, who are answerable to no student, worker, or faculty group. Thank you so much for telling us more about this important attempt to silence academic freedom at CUNY and dissent in this country.
The following sentence appeared in the previous post, above:
Rather, he avowedly supports, wholeheartedly and with apparent relish, in word (which, from a prominent wordsmith, is substantively "deed") Israel- and, hence, Jew-hatred.
Re-read that...50 times at minimum, as a logical and literary penance. Then try to extend what you've learned to the rest of your disordered and agitated thought process. Please.
Sorry...the previous post "slipped" before mine appeared. My critique applies only to the one named here. Thank you.
"I and many, many others who are not only ultra-rightist but have seldom if ever even voted Republican, think the same way."
Yes, you most certainly do, and that is your only place to stand - together, all thinking the same way.
Thank you, Robert. I hadn't heard about this. Thanks to your brother and to you and to Tony Kushner who I am glad has been recognized.
The point of awarding the honorary degree, in the words of (if I'm remembering right from the NYT article) the president of John Jay, was to recognize *excellence*--not the recipient's political affiliations. That would, I assume, go for the sponsors of the candidate too. Wiesenfeld attempted to politicize the honor. To drag in the Meeropol associations via Michael and Robert is nauseating. Did I just enter a time capsule back to the 1950s? And I am not interested in reading yet another polemic on either pro- or anti-Israeli government politics. I'm glad the trustees finally did the right thing and just awarded the damn honorary degree, celebrating Kushner's considerable accomplishments and gifts to our culture, and that he accepted. An oasis of non-politicization in a tsunami of shrieking agendas. Score one for civility, increasingly a rare thing.
What a cute conflation of ideas by Anonymous: supporting the BDS campaign against Israel is equal to anti-Semitism.
Were those who supported the boycott campaign against South Africa expressing a racist hatred of white South Africans or opposing Apartheid racism?
Are those who support (for example) democracy in Zimbabwe today anti-African racists? If you call for democracy in Iran (another example) does that mean you are anti-Muslim?
The government of Saudi Arabia declares itself the defender of the holy places of Islam. So, does the demand for democracy there make people enemies of Islam?
Israel is a state. States don’t have religions. States’ constitutions can be constructed to reflect various religious, political, cultural or economic beliefs of its citizens, but states themselves are just states, nothing more. Unless you believe that the state of Iran prays in the mosque on Friday or that the state of Israel has had a bar mitzvah (would that make the state of Israel male, opening another whole can of worms?)
Perhaps when the state of Saudi Arabia dies it will go to paradise, but I’ll leave that to Jeffrey Wiesenfeld to adjudicate.
To be against Israel’s arch-conservative theocracy and its numerous human rights violations is not to be anti-Semitic. The most recent flagrant violation is yet another military attack on an unarmed humanitarian aid ship to Gaza, sponsored, no less, by Malaysia’s prime minister.
Ethel & Julius, after all, were Jewish as are Robert & Michael.
The fact is that the modern state of Israel was created by the Western ‘victors’ after WWII out of guilt, appeasement and greed. Jewish self-determination is no more important than Palestinian.
The USA’s fundamentalist Christians keep supporting Israel because of the screwball notion that, if any old state of Israel does not exist in the world, the Bible’s mythology cannot be realised. Obviously, this muddled thinking comes from those who know nothing of either the ancient history or geography of the region. If the modern state of Israel did not exist, perhaps we might actually avoid Armageddon!
I wonder what Israeli pols reaction would be to any ‘second coming’...
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)
(not associated with Commie U!)
in response, a couple of points...
I focused my blog on matters that I thought would be of particular interest and pertinence to the Rosenberg Fund for Children community. The right-wing attack against my brother, and more tangentially against me, had nothing to do with Israel. It was all about anti-communism. To echo another’s comment, it felt like we’d entered a time capsule and emerged in 1950.
My wife and I had the privilege of seeing the entire six-hour revival of Angels in America in New York last December. Prior to that I’d only seen the HBO film and read the play. I’ve have more discussions/arguments with people who were offended by my mother’s character saying Kaddish for the Roy Cohen character than I can count, and I bet I’ll have many more. There is nothing wrong with arguing over Tony Kushner’s work. Its invitation to dialogue is a testament to its brilliance. Angels in America alone is ample reason to award Tony Kushner an honorary degree.
All well and said to conferring degrees, but I think seeking degrees is not as difficult as Establishing a University. Better to make the Institution than sit in it.
No one has ever conferred anything on me. Seems to me people now a days are better off not going to corrupt American Universities, to earn corrupt degrees.
What the anonymous critic really means is that not only should Kushner
have been denied the degree, he should never have been invited to speak
at the CUNY lecture series.
Perhaps Kushner should be stripped of his Pulitzer for the same reason -
his opposition to Israel's unwavering stance on the Palestinian question.
Beyond that, he probably thinks those who are so naive as to hire
Kushner raise serious doubts about their qualifications for teaching at
a public university.
The anonymous critic has learned quite well the technique of couching
his defense of Israel in phrases that make the author sound almost a
champion of free speech. Almost! Except when it comes to this subject.
When I published an op-ed condemning Israel's violent invasion of Gaza,
I was besieged by email responses from people who would never have seen
my piece. I think they were alerted by a pro-Israeli network and
encouraged to respond. Will this blog be saturated with similar canned
One thing the critic has failed to learn, however, is that his/her
comment would carry more weight if a legitimate name was publicly
attached to the rant.
Ralph E. Shaffer Professor Emeritus Cal Poly Pomona