Anger as playwright is denied award over his views on Israel

A New York university has withdrawn its offer of an honorary degree to the award-winning playwright Tony Kushner after a row over his views on Israel descended into accusations of slander.

Faculty and staff members at the City University of New York (CUNY) have protested against the decision, which exposed the faultline that exists within the city's academic and artistic communities over public criticism of Israel.

Kushner, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his AIDS drama Angels In America, had been nominated for an honorary degree by the University's Criminal Justice College.

But trustees voted to block the degree after one board member, who had been campaigning to remove the playwright's name from the list of honorees, raised Kushner's criticisms of Israel.

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, an investment banker and former Republican Party aide, said that Kushner had described the removal of Palestinians in order to create Israel as an act of ethnic cleansing and supported a boycott of the state.

Wiesenfeld urged colleagues to consider these things "especially when Israel sits in the neighbourhood which is almost universally dominated by administrations which are almost universally misogynist, anti-gay, anti-Christian".

Wiesenfeld succeeded in getting Kushner's name removed in a vote of trustees. The Jewish playwright was furious over the accusations, which were made public in a podcast of the board meeting.

Kushner accused Wiesenfeld of a "grotesque caricature" of his views. The playwright said he was proud to be Jewish and accused the board of slandering him in his absence. He said he wouldn't accept the degree now, even if the board changed its mind. In a letter to the board, Kushner wrote: "My opinion about the wisdom of the creation of a Jewish state has never been expressed in any form without a strong statement of support for Israel's right to exist. I believe in the absolute good of public debate, and I feel that silence on the part of Jews who have questions is injurious to the life of the Jewish people."

Kushner was a member of the advisory board for Jewish Voice for Peace, an organisation which "defends activists' right to use the full range of boycott, divestments and sanctions tactics" against Israel. But he denied personally supporting an Israel boycott.

Kushner added: "That a great public university would make a decision based on slanderous mischaracterisations without giving the person in question a chance to be heard. I'm sickened that this is happening in New York City."

Staff and faculty members called upon CUNY to reverse its decision. Jay Hershenson, CUNY's senior vice-chancellor, said: "The CUNY board of trustees acted independently and exercised its authority."

The New York-born Kushner, 54, won Pulitzer and Tony awards for Angels In America, his 1993 seven-hour play which depicted the impact of AIDS on the gay community in Reagan-era America.

The Zionist Organisation of America unsuccessfully lobbied against the award of an honorary doctorate to Kushner by a Massachusetts university in 2006, in protest at his criticism of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Night job: Pacha nightclub DJ, Joan Ribas, is the new kingmaker on the island
news
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family
film'I survived it, but I’ll never be the same,' says Arash Amel
Life and Style
Retailers should make good any consumer goods problems that occur within two years
tech(and what to do if you receive it)
Life and Style
healthIf one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada