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Kushner Award Yanked Over Israel Statements

Kushner Award Yanked Over Israel Statements

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The trustees of the City University of New York voted to block the awarding of an honorary degree for Tony Kushner after a board member objected to statements the Angels in America playwright made about Israel.

The New York Times
reports on the "rare move" on Monday evening to stop one of the CUNY campuses, John Jay College, from presenting the honorary degree to the Pulitzer Prize winner. Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, an outspoken supporter of Israel, said that Kushner had disparaged the country in previous comments, a charge that Kushner later denied.

"Mr. Wiesenfeld, an investment adviser and onetime aide to former Gov. George E. Pataki and former Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, said that Mr. Kushner had tied the founding of Israel to a policy of ethnic cleansing, criticized the Israel Defense Forces and supported a boycott of Israel," reports the Times.

"I think it's up to all of us to look at fairness and consider these things," he said. "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."

Kushner described the characterization of his beliefs as "distortion" and slander, and said that even if the board reversed its decision, which faculty and staff members have urged, he would not accept the honor. The action against him represents the first time in 50 years that the CUNY board has voted to table an honorary degree.

"Mr. Kushner, who had not been alerted that Mr. Wiesenfeld would speak against him, said that he was 'dismayed by the vicious attack and wholesale distortion of my beliefs,'" reports the Times. "He 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."

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