Plays with Politics

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Award-winning playwright Tony Kushner talks about the controversy around his upcoming honorary degree from John Jay College amidst allegations from CUNY trustee Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld that Kushner is an anti-Semite, and the resulting calls for Wiesenfeld to step down from his position on the board.


The saga of Tony Kushner's honorary degree is messy, and President Obama's recent speech on the Middle East only heightened scrutiny on the politicized drama. Kushner says that he is a strong defender of the state of Israel, even if he thinks the world situation would have been better if the Jewish state had never come into existence. "What has happened in history has occurred and you can't go back in time and change anything," he said.

I have a big problem with states that have specific ethnic or religious identities, I think that's going to cause problems for any state in the long run, in terms of becoming or maintaining itself as a real democracy. And I don't believe that the problems minorities face can be solved through tribal or state solutions, I believe they are solved by legal instruments like the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution, to the extent they can be solved at all.

Justifying his criticism of Israel, while rooting for Israel

Kushner rejected the black and white 'you're either 100 percent with us or you're against us' approach that some Israel defenders insist on.

The thought of Israel being destroyed is monstrous. I believe that being willing to speak out loud when one feels critical of the policies of the Israeli government you are actually making the state more secure, not less, I believe that about the American government as well. I believe that silence in the face of government misbehavior endangers the health of any democracy.

On Obama and the 1967 borders

Kushner said the way people have latched onto Obama's comments about the 1967 borders is disturbing, because it really isn't a radical proposal even though it is being treated as such. The legal, internationally recognized boundaries of the state of Israel are the 1967 boundaries so Kushner believes it makes sense for them to be the starting point of negotiations, with land swaps and concessions on both sides.

There's a strategic reason for making this declaration now which is to try to rationalize the process of making peace in the Middle East before the meeting of the UN in September, heading off a possibly premature recognition of the Palestinian state before it actually exists, before it's been negotiated into existence.

Should Wiesenfeld be kicked off the CUNY Board of trustees?

Kushner didn't directly answer this question but said it is time for some soul searching. He said he found Wiesenfeld's behavior appalling but acknowledged that the trustee's statements had been exaggerated, just as his own had been.

I think what people need to look at with somebody like Wiesenfeld is whether or not he's using his position as a trustee of a great institution of higher learning as a platform for his own political opinions, and if he is if that's appropriate behavior for a trustee, especially doing it in board meetings.


Tony Kushner


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Comments [22]

What is most upsetting is that WNYC, and in particular Brian Lehrer, choose to give this man a platform to spew his rubbish under the guise of being "objective".

There is NOTHING objective about WNYC's reporting. It is always biased against Israel. Liberal Jews, usually far removed from anything authentically Jewish, are duped into supporting this station. I hope they see the light and stop contributing. As a conscious matter of principle, I will never support wnyc.

May. 24 2011 12:22 PM
Paul I. Adujie from New York, United States

Everyone likes Tony Kushner because he makes a great lot of sense more than those group-think persons with herd mentality

Too many are unwilling to examine the fact and sift the wheat from the chaff as Tony Kushner often does!

I congratulate him on his clear thinking and his award of an honorary degree by John Jay College of Criminal Justice... well deserved!

Palestine Nationhood Imperative; As Israel Meets The World!

America Must Break With Israel; As Good & Just Middle East Policy!&cp=59&qe=UGFsZXN0aW5lIE5hdGlvbmhvb2QgSW1wZXJhdGl2ZTsgQXMgSXNyYWVsIE1lZXRzIFRoZSBXb3JsZCE&qesig=m2T6rI3dumXPA-qvnmT0mA&pkc=AFgZ2tn8QqLh_GI6kdWWcwjeizqyJfR2WHR9iz5jMycgBDx6m6PJfAvuENRQ2sMX_tEwINGf_jMgXW4AUHjU1UCXKdcd5XTLVw&pf=p&sclient=psy&site=&source=hp&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=Palestine+Nationhood+Imperative%3B+As+Israel+Meets+The+World!&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=6af0f014ae16db6c!&xhr=t&q=America%20must%20break%20with%20israel%3B%20as%20good%20%26%20just%20middle%20east%20policy&cp=4&qe=QW1lcg&qesig=K2Qt_A5G3k7-Jb50zzQNow&pkc=AFgZ2tn22d5ZABM2ZJCexOwNsc7ek4X_rz7bBw9cewBTqy4I-pj0DA2786sN5jndDZI14eMPUc6mYgbyN8Tw92JcVlrgT2_W9Q&pf=p&sclient=psy&source=hp&aq=0p&aqi=&aql=f&oq=Amer&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=6af0f014ae16db6c

May. 24 2011 11:42 AM
adrienne from UWS, NYC

Kushner can explain all of it to us: Israel, Jewish History, Quote Talmud, Communism, Democracy, what an incredibly glib fellow...why does everyone like him so much?

May. 24 2011 11:22 AM

I know it's easy to get insulted if someone criticize your ancestral home but just relax. Tony Kushner wasn't even making a public issue of his concerns until it was forced on him by overzealous opposition.

May. 24 2011 11:09 AM
Quasi from Meatpacking District

Listening to this guy, you can really hear how middlebrow he is, how good he is at spouting received wisdom and easy conventional thinking. Thats why all the sheep think his commonplaces are "genius"

May. 24 2011 11:04 AM
GARY from queens






May. 24 2011 10:59 AM

when suicide bombers have streets named in their memory then yes - it is a culture of death!

May. 24 2011 10:58 AM
Lorne Caplan from Westchester

I read very little about Mr. Kushner despite having heard about the brouhaha of his honorary degree and some of his views on Israel. My lament is that he seems to get away with being a blithering idiot simply because he is a creator of theater, or alternatively an artist. He is allowed to comment about all manner of subjects including economics, social issues, labour and commenting that "anybody that has a brain" would see the problems about to come forth. To give a platform to his social views and (yes) anti-Israel views is very sickening. His facts are wrong in that Israels boundaries in 1948 were simply created by the UK in it's desire after WW II to dispense with it's worldwide empire and it's headaches (not much has changed in dealing with the Middle East has it?). Not far different from what is going on in Africa with it's random boundaries. If anyone were to look at history, we would see that countries develop their borders through negotiations as well as war. Those wars were thrust upon Israel and will be again, if anyone is a student of history. The double standard that exists in the world when discussing Israel (and therefore Jewish people) will also continue since nobody waves their fingers at the many Muslim countries that are exclusionary and rampantly anti-any other religion including Judaism. So why the fuss about having one country in the world that is a Jewish state? Only because it it just that, a Jewish state. When Natanyahu commented about the lack of concern or interest in the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forced to leave their ancestral homes in most of the Muslim/Arab countries when the Jewish state was created (only after over 6 million Jews were brutally and heartlessly murdered), nobody cared and nobody comments on that even today, so why is it that Israel should be forced to welcome back the progeny of the many Palestinians that would effectively overrun the Jewish state. This Kushner fellow is indeed misguided and given a platform simply because he is an "Artist" and that is unfortunate since an intelligent conversation about resolving the Israeli, Palestinian issue won't move forward with anti-Israeli talking heads like Kushner who would do well to remember as an apologetic Jew, that he wouldn't even be likely around, if it were not for the existence of Israel. That is why it must be protected as a state, since another Holocaust will no doubt occur, just like the many pogroms in Eastern Europe and Russia, the Christian murders over centuries in Europe and certainly the Muslim and Arab purges of Jewish people over the last millennium or so. So should we as a civilized world even pay attention to Sha Shtill Jews like Kushner? Let him talk, perhaps, but take him seriously? Absolutely not!

May. 24 2011 10:56 AM
Charles Hayes from Eastchester, New HYork

Tony is an American treasure, a genius of the theater and the human heart, an astute political observer, a champion of human rights, and a patriot of the virtuous ilk. In short, he's a mensch. I love the man.

May. 24 2011 10:53 AM
Mimi from Bayside

Thank you, Tony Kushner.

May. 24 2011 10:51 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Too bad Tony Kushner didn't trademark "Tea Party"!

May. 24 2011 10:48 AM
els from Ridgefield, CT

I could listen to Tony Kushner for hours!

May. 24 2011 10:46 AM
Juli from Skillman, NJ

Mr. Kushner, I wish that I had your faith that people were aware of the disparity of wealth within the United States. I just think there are so many people that strongly chose not to know and understand what is going on around them.

May. 24 2011 10:46 AM

The extreme nationalism of some people in NYC is kind of startling especially when they usually claim to be liberal on minority rights.

May. 24 2011 10:45 AM
john from office

Wow, imagine this guy negociating with the likes of Hamas. Another useful idiot, as Stalin would have called him.

The Rosenbergs were traitors.

May. 24 2011 10:43 AM

the speech tics are driving me mad! umm, uh, uh, uh, umm.

May. 24 2011 10:43 AM
Scott from Lower Manhattan

Mr. Kushner cited the plight of the Jews in Europe leading to the Holocaust. Is he aware of the plight of the Jews in the Arab world leading to the Farhud? How would that factor in to how Jewish rights could be secured without carving out a Jewish state from that region?

May. 24 2011 10:40 AM
Quasi from Nyc

God, this guy is an idiot, take all his awards away! Consign to the trashbin Angels in America, that AIDs-exploiting smaltzfest.

May. 24 2011 10:39 AM
Fact Check

Kushner is being disingenuous or naive when he says that "ethnic cleansing" means the removal of populations in wartime. The term means the premeditated murder of an ethnic group in order to claim their land, masked by a euphemism intended to minimize the crime. The term refers to what Milosevic's Serbs did to the Bosnian Muslims. It does not simply mean wartime population transfer. When it is used against Israel, it equates the Zionist pioneers with Milosevic's thugs. There are many other good terms available to people who wish to criticize Israel in good faith.

May. 24 2011 10:37 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Mr. Kushner sounds alarmingly unfamiliar with the Torah. Eretz Yisrael was given to us by Hashem when we escaped slavery in Egypt, so we've had the land for thousands of years.

The State of Israel uses that land, but is a mixture of the sacred and the secular. There is no discrimination against anyone but terrorists there.

Does Mr. Kushner not believe that terrorists pose a threat to democracy?

May. 24 2011 10:36 AM
john from office

I find this whole matter interesting.

The clash between two untouchable liberal, New York jewish issues. Both scared cows, the Israel issue and gay rights or gay activist issues.

The gay issue won?!?! Wow the liberal mind is warped. Israel is doomed with the American liberal left.

May. 24 2011 10:35 AM
Amy from Manhattan

What was the website that Wiesenfeld called "anti-Israel"? I've never heard it named, & I'd like to know more about it than his opinion.

May. 24 2011 10:33 AM

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