(JTA) — The City University of New York has voted not to honor playwright Tony Kushner with an honorary degree at its commencement after a board member objected, citing the Pulitzer Prize winner’s statements on Israel.
The New York Jewish Week reported that the request by CUNY’s John Jay College to recognize Kushner was turned down at a board of trustees meeting Monday after board member Jeffrey Wiesenfeld objected. Kushner would have been eligible to speak at the graduation ceremony.
- Tony Kushner (Photo: Roy Zipstein)
The decision could be the first time in the university system’s history that a proposed candidate for an honorary degree has been vetoed, the newspaper reported.
Other candidates approved this year for honorary degrees include former New York Mayor Edward Koch and Bernard Spitzer, the father of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, from the City College of New York; Joel Klein, the city’s former schools chancellor, from CUNY; and Judith Kaye, the state’s former chief judge, from John Jay, The Jewish Week reported.
Kushner has been active with organizations that endorse the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
He has written that Israel was “founded in a program that, if you really want to be blunt about it, was ethnic cleansing.” Kushner also has said that “it would have been better” had the State of Israel never been created.
In 2009, the Guthrie Theater mounted a celebration of Tony Kushner’s plays, which were performed on all three stages of the Minneapolis theater. Kushner’sÂ new play,Â The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, had its world premiere on May 22, 2010, at the Guthrie, prior to opening in New York City.
As you might expect, Tony Kushner has penned a letter to the CUNY board of trustees.
He says that his statements have been taken out of context (“a grotesque caricature of my political beliefs regarding theÂ state of Israel”); he doesn’t want any award from CUNY.
The CUNY-Kushner controversy is not going away.
Salon.com reports that Ellen Schrecker of Yeshiva University fired off a letter of protest to the board of trustees “asking how to return a 2008 honorary degreeÂ — ‘the greatest honor I had ever received’ — to John Jay College, a CUNY school.
“I received my honorary degree from CUNY because of my scholarship on the McCarthy period, when over one hundred professors (including at least fifteen from the New York City municipal colleges) lost their jobs for political reasons,” writes Schrecker. “I assume that no one within CUNY’s Board of Trustees or administration wants a repeat ofÂ those dark days. Certainly, the John Jay faculty and administration, whose judgmentÂ the CUNY Trustees overrode, realize the value of academic freedom today.”
The Salon story also notes thatÂ CUNY’s faculty union has strenuously objected to the board’s decision, calling for it to be reversed.