Israel, Politics

Kushner fails the litmus test

Hey y’all–I’m a new contributor. To start off with I’d like to declare my undying love and support for Tony Kushner with the following:
After joking with a friend about how bubble-like her Boston Jewish community is in its progressiveness, I’ve recently become very excited to join this community when I move to Beantown to begin graduate school this fall. It seems that not only did Brandeis remove Palestinan art, but is being heckled from the center/right for having chosen to give an honorary award to the playwright Tony Kushner.
I wonder, then, if this sudden attack on Brandeis for having chosen to honor Kushner, represents a right-ward turn, or merely the country trying to inflict its conservative notions on one of the remaining bastions of Jewish liberality. Some students, alumni as well as Charles Jacobs of The David Project and the head of the ZOA have called for the honorary degree to be rescinded, ignoring, I think the primary reason for and opportunity in a graduation speaker like Kushner. As Kushner states in a letter he wrote to Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz,

“the world’s a big, scary mess, and there’s no reason why graduation, which is when students leave academia and enter the world, ought to be stress-, dissent- or anger-free. Ma nishtanah, if you don’t mind my saying so, why should this gathering be different from all other gatherings?”

The letter is one of the most well-written and concise counterpoints to the prevalent rhetoric toted by the likes of the ADL and
If your want proof that Kushner has the potential to be a much more engaging commencement speaker than Gen. Wesley Clark was at my graduation , then look no further.
I do hope that the absurd McCarthyite tactics of the ZOA will be overcome the University’s sensibilities. The commentary is already flying all over the Internet, and I anticipate receiving some forwarded email from my mother within the next few days, urging me to call Brandeis and express my fervent wishes for Kushner’s honorary degree to be revoked, but I think maybe the content of that letter will get around. Maybe even the watchdogs for anti-Zionist behavior will try to understand Kushner’s words, which, in my opinion, do echo the sentiments of Justice Brandeis and his legacy:

“I don’t think, write or speak in soundbites, and people at a university shouldn’t either. Israel, and everything else on earth worth arguing about, deserves more than a sentence-worth’s consideration, and a person shouldn’t be judged on the basis of surgically selected quotes gleaned from right-wing websites.”

6 thoughts on “Kushner fails the litmus test

  1. Tony Kushner’s politics are pretty obnoxious. He signed onto a petition attacking America’s post-9/11 foreign policies that couldn’t even bring itself to use the utter the word “terrorism,” referring to the 9/11 attacks simply as “horrific events” before quickly redirecting the readers’ attentions to “similar scenes in Baghdad, Panama City, and, a generation ago, Vietnam.”
    What’s more, Kushner thinks the founding of Israel was a “mistake,” seemingly because he feels guilty that Jews now wield power — military power! — and, in order to survive, are forced to sometimes take actions that are morally ambiguous. He would have much preferred the moral purity of a powerless people. Well, that’s all well and good for Kushner, but I’m sure the millions of Jews who found refuge in the Jewish state would beg to differ.
    Now I’m not sure any of this should disqualify Kushner from receiving an honorary degree. He is a respected playwright, after all. In any case, one shouldn’t paint all critics of Israel with a broad brush as anti-Semites or self-hating Jews, as some on the right do.
    But you’re also painting with a broad brush when you lump together everyone who doesn’t share your politics: The far-right Frontpage Magazine and the (usually) sober and centrist ADL really have very little in common (“the likes of”???). The ADL’s head even defended Kushner and Spielberg’s execrable “Munich” movie!

  2. I concur with Daniel.
    Being targeted by the ZOA or David Horowitz does not excuse one’s otherwise offensive political views. Apparently, though, it does make for a convenient distraction from those views.

  3. Ok, perhaps I shouldn’t have linked the ADL and frontpage.mag; the connection in my head was that they both have been at the forefront of the “monitoring universities” movement, seeking to seemingly limit academic freedom of expression by labeling all universities as anti-American and anti-Semitic bastions of liberal thought. Obviously the ADL has a unique purpose in the world and has done many good things over the years.
    I don’t think this issue is a distraction from Kushner’s politics–we wouldn’t even be talking about them if not for this, would we? The Munich uproar has died down to the best of my knowledge. I don’t personally find Kushner’s views obnoxious or offensive- in his critique of Israel as a supposed “mistake” he states bluntly that he thinks the current state and its citizens should be protected- If you read the letter he wrote to Brandeis and other statements, it seems that he thinks of the mistake in a historical context- not that he would go back and eradicate the state, but that in the particular context in which it was created, it may not have been the best possible decision in that time and space of history. He obviously understands the need for Jews to be safe, but may not be a fan of any nationalist movements (not to speak for a brilliant playwright or anything…).

  4. “he thinks the current state and its citizens should be protected”
    That’s very generous of Tony Kushner. I never said Kushner wasn’t principled. I’m sure he’s equally opposed to all nationalist movements. But for him to remove himself from the fray that is our real world and from the sidelines offer up unnuanced critiques of American foreign policy and Israeli actions or bold proclamations that Israel is a “mistake,” is hardly behaving nobly.
    I’d love to see Tony Kushner really grapple honestly with tough and morally vexing questions like: How should America or Israel respond to terrorism? Or, if Israel’s a “mistake” (because it runs afoul of his abstract antipathy to all forms of nationalism), where could millions of Jews have otherwise found refuge and equality? If he were to grapple honestly with these questions, then he’d have earned the right to criticize. Although having grappled with them, he’d probably find it much harder to pontificate with such a degree of certitude.
    Speaking of which, check out this great article explaining precisely what was wrong with “Munich.” I think it demonstrates Kushner’s tendency to tailor his portrayal of the world to fit his preexisting notions rather than adjusting his notions to reflect the world as it actually is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.