The Kushner affair: what kind of pro-Israel movement do we want?
05/06/2011 - 08:44
James Besser

In view of the furor over CUNY's decision to revoke an invitation to playwright Tony Kushner to receive an honorary degree, first reported in the Jewish Week, I would just ask this: what kind of pro-Israel movement do we want?

(On the same subject, the Jewish Week's Doug Chandler reported last night on former Mayor Ed Koch's call for the “resignation or removal” of the trustee who attacked Kushner.)

Do we want one that's as broad as possible, encompassing Jews across the political spectrum and non Jews who support Israel for a wide range of reasons? Do we want a movement that brings together ZOA, APN, AIPAC and – yes – J Street – around the central principle of support for Israel, no matter how much they disagree over the best way to ensure the Jewish state's future?

Or do we want one defined by narrow ideology, with everybody who doesn't support a particular perspective on Israel and the conflict with its neighbors excluded, every critic of specific Israeli policies branded an enemy?

The former guarantees support regardless of the vicissitudes of politics in this country and Israel. Under Likud, Kadima or Labor, Democrats or Republicans, support has growing over the decades, in large measure because of the diversity of the movement of Americans who believe Israel's existence is important.

The latter, it seems to me, guarantees an ever-shrinking, if more ideologically pure pro-Israel movement, and it means support for Israel will be subject to political changes in both countries.

Forget about whether Tony Kushner is right or wrong about Israel's current policies or the conditions of its creation; what this debate is really about is the kind of pro-Israel movement that will protect the U.S.-Israel relationship for decades to come: broad or narrow, growing or shrinking, able to come together around core principles or forever waging internal warfare over fine points of ideology. Or so it seems to me.

For another really sharp take on the CUNY controversy, check out a blog by the Atlantic's Jeff Goldberg, who calls the CUNY action “unconscionably stupid.”

And JTA's Ron Kampeas, who blogged that “'Vicious'...may describe the public humiliation CUNY's board delivered to Tony Kushner.”



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for me, issues about politics are entirely irrelevant to the question of whether someone should be awarded for their work. what kind of society do we want to create: an ideologically narrow one, or one characterized by freedom of expression, in which a diversity of opinions is a display of its strength? i plead for the latter.
the CUNY board's actions are a true hillul hashem; i fear for how we look to the world now...

As a Jew (and yes, there are Jews on Fabulon) I find myself sympathetic with this viewpoint. I was able to visit Israel a few years ago and found myself understanding that, although as a Jew I have my own opinions about "the situation", it is Israeli's who have to LIVE with the realities. They aren't visiting--it's their home. So I give them a lot of latitude to try to come to the best decisions.

I recall the controversy a couple of years ago when a J-Street-associated student group at Brandeis University protested the appearance at its commencement ceremonies of Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States and a serious, published scholar of the Middle East. I wonder what Ed Koch and other Kushner supporters today thought and said about that matter then.

Oren finally did speak at Brandeis, I understand, and the decision was the prerogative of the Brandeis trustees as much to their credit in that case as a previous event on campus with Jimmy Carter and their honorary degree to Tony Kushner was to their discredit. CUNY trustees had the right to select whomever they want to honor. Perhaps if Kushner's views on Israel had been better publicized then, if those who wanted to honor him had read his book and opinions, there would have been less desire to even propose him for an honorary degree at CUNY. He has been very open about his opinions regarding Israel. It is "merely" stunningly intellectually dishonest of him to call himself "pro-Israel," however, and he doesn't deserve an honorary degree for that alone.

So now the prerogative of a university to choose whom to honor or not to honor is called into question when the proposed honoree was "outed" as an outspoken opponent of Israel, despite his less-than-convincing words to the contrary.

The first, simple answer to James Besser's question is that a "pro-Israel movement" has to be "pro-Israel" in its thoughtful intents and assumptions. This is not the case for many who persist in labeling themselves "pro-Israel" despite rather shrill and blatant anti-Israel (bordering on antisemitic) stances. The second answer is: "movement?" Who is being proposed to lead it? Prominent playwrights with clear anti-Israel views, like Kushner or Pinter? Retired politicians like Koch?
Those with the means to publicize and disseminate their opinions, like George Soros and Ben-Ami?
Shouldn't Israeli citizens have the exclusive right to control and determine their own future and their relations with their neighbors? American and Jewish opinion is stressed and bombarded by anti-Israel efforts of many sorts today, supported from many sources whose benevolence toward Israel may rightly be questioned. Americans, even Jewish ones, have no legal standing to try to subvert Israel's independence (in the name of "democracy," no less) and urge Obama to pressure Israel (only) to concede its sovereignty in the name of some ill-defined, flimsy, and easily abrogated agreement with its hostile neighbors.

Support, emotionally or intellectually, for Likud or Labor/Kadima or "Mafdal," or even Aguda, is "pro-Israel." If you are a citizen of the Israeli polity, you can even vote for them yourself. But being "pro-Israel" outside Israel today should consist of supporting without prescribing or forcing Israel's efforts to reach peace and build its society. Exclusively and maliciously taking positions on complaints (warranted or not) against it, questioning or denying its legitimacy, boycotting any part of it, are simply not "pro-Israel" stances.

Tony Kushner feeds those who seek the delegitimization of Israel and its existence. That places him outside any "pro-Israel" tent.

Those shamefully supporting ugly BDS against Israel are now whining about BDS being directed against them.
The chickens have come home to roost.

Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)
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