The Tony Kushner Affair: Jeffrey Wiesenfeld’s Faux Pas

John Schretenthaler


It is nothing new when someone gets blacklisted or relentlessly attacked for challenging Jewish interests. When it comes to actual Jews challenging the interests of the “tribe” regarding Israel, a different tack must be taken. After all, destroying the career of a fellow Jew is not desirable to most other Jews; but some degree of punishment mixed with reward must be introduced to correct undesirable behavior and it should be done behind the scenes so as not to draw media attention.

The recent events surrounding Richard Goldstone backtracking on the Goldstone Report go a long way to illustrate how the Jewish community deals with someone how strays outside the playbook on Israel. However, another example has recently cropped up which further illustrates how members of the “tribe” are dealt with when they criticize the Jewish State. The New York Times reports that Tony Kushner, a Jewish playwright and screenwriter, who wrote Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (a mediation on gay themes that is a contribution to destruction of traditional cultural attitudes on sexuality), was recently denied an honorary degree from the City of New York University system for statements critical of Israel. However, in this case, it seems that the main antagonist aligned against Kushner, a fellow Jew, crossed the line, or at least did not go about his business in an acceptable manner. Indeed, his efforts ultimately backfired: Kushner will receive the degree, and the faculty union demanded that Weisenfeld resign from the CUNY board.

The person primarily responsible for attacking Kushner is a CUNY board trustee, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, who is now on record as saying Palestinians are less than human, according to a Times interview. Weisenfeld’s viewpoint regarding the sub-human nature of Palestinians is hardly unique within the Jewish community, with Marty Peretz saying as much. Former NY mayor Ed Koch, himself a supporter of the Israeli right, sees Wiesenfeld as “obsessed” with Israel:

He’s obsessed. He’s obsessed with the issue of Israel. … I’m a very big supporter of the State of Israel, but I understand that there is dissent on a whole host of issues. It isn’t evil to be supportive of the Palestinian cause…. He’s a nice guy, but he’s obsessed.

The reality is that many of these individuals inhabit academia, and are ready to surreptitiously attack those with dissenting views regarding Israel, and in the case of non-Jews, usually behind closed doors. This behavior is not relegated to academia either. Many other non-Jews who have criticized Jewish policy have lost their jobs in the media or their positions in think tanks. Charles Freeman, resigned as head of the National Intelligence Council after the fallout from complaining about being “under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country.”

Perhaps the greatest sin on Wiesenfeld’s part was to publicly attack Kushner when there are other channels available that would not draw so much media attention. According to the Times, Wiesenfeld told his fellow trustees during the approval process for Kushner’s degree:

I think it’s up to all of us to look at fairness and consider these things. … Especially when the State of Israel, which is our sole democratic ally in the area, sits in the neighborhood which is almost universally dominated by administrations which are almost universally misogynist, antigay, anti-Christian.

It not really worth addressing Wiesenfeld’s points regarding Israel, as there is much evidence of Israeli policies of misogyny and anti-Christian behavior. What really matters is whether Wiesenfeld’s behavior is prevalent in academia and other important fields in regards to non-Jews, and are non-Jews being muzzled in ways that do not get coverage in the New York Times? The evidence would suggest that this is the case.

The Times editorial board has responded to this incident with an op-ed asking Wiesenfeld to step down. Interestingly enough, the Times indicated that they did not agree with Kushner regarding his views on Israel, but never explicitly indicate which views it disagrees with. It would be interesting for some clarification on that issue. Furthermore, other instances of non-Jews being barred from important positions, such as in the case mentioned above regarding Charles Freeman, do not so much as warrant a peep from the Times’ editorial board.

The real point of contention is Kushner’s belief that Israel was founded on a policy of ethnic cleansing. The Times writes:

[Kushner] has criticized policies and actions by Israel in the past, and said that he believed — based on research by Israeli historians — that the forcible removal of Palestinians from their homes as part of the creation of Israel was ethnic cleansing. But he added that he was a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist, that he had never supported a boycott of the country, and that his views were shared by many Jews and supporters of Israel.

Of course, how Jews treat the ethno-state of Israel often creates some cognitive dissonance within the Jewish community’s pro-immigration, pro-multiculturalism agenda in the United States.  What is becoming increasingly apparent is that when it comes to Jews criticizing Israel, there are many Jews who feel that there should be no censorship when those dissenting views have no real effect on American policy towards Israel. In other words, given the lock that AIPAC has on actual policy, dissent within boundaries can be seen as a positive because it gives the appearance of a democratic debate rather than an authoritarian squelching of rational debate. Indeed, dissent within the Jewish community is often characterized as faux-dissent by organizations such as the Council on the National Interest. For example, the CNI characterizes groups like J-Street as controlled dissent. (See also “Jewish Liberals and Israel: Managing the Enemy”.)

This episode with Kushner can be considered as bad PR for the pro-Israeli crowd because it conflicts with a Jewish strategy that allows for some controlled dissent on the Israel issue. After all, some dissent is good, as it dispels any notion of a unified “conspiracy” within the Jewish community to promote Israel. The Jews who disagree with current Israeli policy sit on ineffectual boards (Kushner sits on board of the left-leaning Jewish Voice for Peace) and promote ineffectual ideas while the real money is directed towards a U.S. government that votes in unison regarding issues important to Israel.

In essence, Kushner and his ilk are not a threat; U.S. policy demonstrates this in glaring detail. Let the Jewish academics critical of Israel have their honorary degrees and their accolades because their criticism does not matter. The voting record of  members of the House and the Senate and the conduct of US foreign policy by the Executive Branch are what really count.

In reality, Jewish interests could not be better positioned. There can be an illusion of public debate and a sense that Jews care about the plight of Palestinians, while everything that truly matters regarding America’s foreign policy continues its unabashed promotion of the Israeli agenda. Universities are full of Jewish academics who make tepid, ineffectual criticisms of Israel and then spend the great bulk of their time and energy making alliances with non-White ethnic groups within the university and outside it. Academics, artists, and musicians can bemoan Israeli apartheid all they want, but in the end, America is firmly in the grasp of the Israeli lobby. Jews who support Israel know this. As a result, Wiesenfeld crossed the line in denying a fellow Jew an accolade by attacking a fellow Jew publicly when that accolade means nothing in terms of hurting Israeli interests.

John Schretenthaler is a member of American Third Position and an advocate for White interests.

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