Tony Kushner in degree flap says no one asked for his defense

(JTA) — Playwright Tony Kushner, whose honorary degree from the City University of New York was nixed over his statements on Israel, said that no one sought to solicit a defense from him or his associates.

The New York Jewish Week reported that the request by CUNY’s John Jay College to recognize Kushner at commencement was turned down at a board of trustees meeting Monday after board member Jeffrey Wiesenfeld objected, citing Kushner’s statements on Israel. Kushner would have been eligible to speak at the graduation ceremony.

The decision could be the first time in the university system’s history that a proposed candidate for an honorary degree has been vetoed, the newspaper reported.

Kushner has been active with organizations that endorse the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. He has written that Israel was "founded in a program that, if you really want to be blunt about it, was ethnic cleansing." Kushner also has said that "it would have been better" had the State of Israel never been created.

In a letter to the board that was first reported by Salon, Kushner noted the failure to hear from him or his associates. He said Wiesenfeld ripped his remarks out of context and practiced guilt by association.

Kushner acknowledged an association with Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that backs BDS, but said this did not mean he backs boycotts.

"I have never supported a boycott of the state of Israel," he said. "I don’t believe it will accomplish anything positive in terms of resolving the crisis. I believe that the call for a boycott is predicated on an equation of this crisis with other situations, contemporary and historical, that is fundamentally false, the consequence of a failure of political understanding of a full and compassionate engagement with Jewish history and Jewish existence."

Other candidates approved this year for honorary degrees include former New York Mayor Edward Koch and Bernard Spitzer, the father of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, from the City College of New York; Joel Klein, the city’s former schools chancellor, from CUNY; and Judith Kaye, the state’s former chief judge, from John Jay, The Jewish Week reported.

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