NY Times calumnist (that’s not a typo) Roger Cohen weighed in on the Tony Kushner affair, predictably joining the chorus demanding the resignation of CUNY Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who had the audacity to oppose an honorary degree for Kushner. Here are some snippets:
Every few years along comes a brilliant Jewish writer called Tony [but see the end of this post! — ed.] with challenging views on Israel, and this great city — on all other matters the most open in the world — gets tied in knots over what can or cannot be said. After “L’Affaire Judt” we have “L’Affaire Kushner,” but with different outcomes that suggest a shifting American Jewish discourse…
While I disagreed with [Judt’s] proposed resolution, I agree that the occupation is untenable and I found the hounding of Judt, who died last year of Lou Gehrig’s disease, an appalling instance of the methods of the relentless Israel-right-or-wrong bullies…
For anyone familiar with the Judt saga, Kushner’s travails have a familiar ring. He’s interested in historical facts, which include Palestinians being driven from their homes in 1948; he’s appalled by the ongoing Israeli settlement policy and is a board member of an organization that has supported boycotting West Bank settlements (although Kushner told me he’s against a boycott); he’s mused about one state.
That’s heresy enough for Wiesenfeld. This time, however, the counter-wave was powerful. J Street, an organization not around in 2003 that supports Israel but opposes the settlements, issued a statement calling CUNY’s action “unacceptable.” Former mayor Ed Koch, of impeccable pro-Israel credentials, weighed in. Within days CUNY reversed itself and approved Kushner’s degree.
Now Wiesenfeld is under pressure to resign. He should: No university is well served by a trustee who values taboo over debate and doubts an entire people’s humanity.
Kushner told me he believes “there is a very significant change underway.” Americans are realizing there is “a terrible need for a dose of debate” on Israel and that “silent acquiescence” to those “whose politics are based substantially on fantasy and theological wishes” is dangerous.
The hypocrisy in the Kushner case is that not giving him an honorary degree in no way shuts him up, while firing Jeffrey Wiesenfeld for opposing it means that a trustee may not speak his mind on an issue that is presented to his board for a decision.
What mainly struck me is Cohen’s singing the “Zionists don’t allow us to speak” tune. This is a very popular theme lately. There is a blog called “Muzzlewatch” operated by the anti-Zionist “Jewish Voice for Peace” group whose masthead reads “Tracking efforts to stifle open debate about US-Israeli foreign policy” — or, more correctly, efforts to disagree with them.
In an example of the reality inversion and psychological projection that so characterizes the anti-Israel camp, Cohen, Kushner and JVP insist that Zionists are somehow interfering with their free speech and preventing them from getting their message out.
Part of the thesis of Mearsheimer and Walt (“The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy”) is that ‘the Lobby’ “stifles debate” about US support for Israel. Of course, their book has sold a gazillion copies, and they are raking in huge sums of money for speaking all over the world, so the ‘stifling’ hasn’t worked against them very effectively.
Here are just a few of the major US media outlets which more or less support the Palestinian cause:
The New York Times (our ‘newspaper of record’)
The Huffington Post (the no. 1 blog on Earth, one of the top 1o news sites)
There are plenty more. There are also thousands of blogs and ‘alternative media’. Here in Fresno we have a local radio station which carries the Pacifica network, on which virtually all programming about the Middle East is viciously anti-Israel. My gut feeling from googling topics related to Israel is that there are far more anti-Israel sites than pro-Israel ones.
Some stifling! The idea that the anti-Israel point of view is suppressed is sheer nonsense. So why do they say it all the time?
There’s a simple answer: they want to change the subject. It’s very easy to come up with an argument for free speech. Almost everyone in the West will at least claim to be in favor of it, even if — like Cohen and the others who want to fire Wiesenfeld — they only believe in it for themselves.
Oh, by the way — some people don’t think Kushner is so bloody brilliant.