Once beyond a time, a consummate artist brought Angels swooping down into America. If it’s possible to immortalize Angels, he did it. He put Ethel Rosenberg and Roy Cohn in the same play, with neither one a villain.
And what was his reward for this amazing artistry? Excommunication! – Not by those Angels, not by the Holy One, not by the rabbis.
But by the City University of New York!
McCarthyism is back –- only now it attacks not Tail-Gunner Joe McCarthy’s maybe 205, or maybe 57, or maybe 81 alleged Communists, but Jews who dare criticize actions of the Israeli government. Middle East McCarthyism, I call it.
Latest target: Tony Kushner, author of Angels in America, screenwriter for Munich -- one of the most fruitful, bold, and prophetic artists that Jewish culture has had in our generation.
Indeed, The Shalom Center honored him just a year ago as one of the great “Prophetic Voices” of our generation. We arranged for him to be interviewed that evening, and you can hear for yourself -- You can hear his wonderfully rich, laugh-out-loud funny, subtle, bold, brave , utterly unique voice on our Website. (I’ll give you the URL at the end of this letter, so you’ll get to read the letter first.)
CUNY used to be a place for passionate debate by mostly Jewish radicals, but it also succumbed to the old-time Joe McCarthy version of McCarthyism when it fired the historian of American Jewish history and founding editor of Jewish Currents, Morris Schappes, from its faculty.
John Jay College, a component of CUNY, recommended Tony for an honorary degree. But the CUNY Trustees, either ignorant or cowardly (or, come to think of it, both) , turned him down. The story is in the New York Times, and we have posted it on our website. Again, the URL is at the end.
Also at the end of this letter is your very own invitation to the CUNY graduation ceremony where Tony WILL be honored -- by us.
For what sin was this prophetic voice barred from an honorary degree? He said that the State of Israel was built upon the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from some parts of what became the new Jewish state. This is a fact described in serious historical works by Israeli scholars, including at least one (Benny Morris) who says he thinks this was a necessary action in 1948-1949 for the State to come into being.
The excommunicators asserted that Tony had on occasion criticized the behavior of the Israeli Army. Indeed he has, thank God! (Literally, thank God! Have the Trustees of CUNY ever taken the trouble to read Amos or Jeremiah or Martin Buber or the novelist David Grossman or … never mind, the list is too long.)
They also claimed he has called for a boycott of Israel. That one isn’t even true, but the Trustees didn’t care. Like Tail-Gunner Joe, they shot off their mouths first and never bothered with the facts at all. (Even if he had, would that make the author of Angels in America less worthy of honor?)
In fact, Tony affirms the existence of Israel as a legitimate state. He opposes its occupation of Palestinian territories. (Judah Magnes, the founding president of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, along with Martin Buber and Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah, were much more radical than Tony. For many years they opposed the creation of a separate Jewish state, and urged the creation of a binational state instead. I guess CUNY wouldn’t have presented them with honorary doctorates, either. Poor them.)
Enough. The CUNY commencement ceremony is scheduled for Friday, May 27, at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center – 10 Lincoln Center Plaza
(Columbus Avenue and 65th Street) At 10:30 a.m. the procession assembles in Avery Fisher Hall, and at 11:00 a.m. the Ceremony begins.
I plan to be there, God willing and the creeks don’t rise.
Inside, if some graduate or faculty member will send me a ticket. Outside, if not.
On behalf of the Angels Gabriel and Uriel, on behalf of Amos, Jeremiah, Judah Magnes, Henrietta Szold, Martin Buber, Morris Schappes, and such impudent Rabbis as David Einhorn, all of them non-recipients of CUNY’s honorary doctorate, I INVITE YOU TO THE CEREMONY.
Oh yes. Watch that amazing video of Tony Kushner unplugged – as I said, rich, laugh-out-loud funny, subtle, bold, brave , utterly unique -- by clicking on our Website here.
And read the NY Times article on the weaseling way in which the CUNY Trustees behaved, by clicking here.
See you on May 27!
With the blessings of holy chutzpah and a free voice,