Thursday, May 5, 2011

How Can this Be: The Failure of CUNY'S Seat of Power

Trying so hard to hold on to the wonders of the progressive communities represented in Belgrade, lesbians, feminists, queers, I receive from Shebar the news about the trustees of CUNY refusing Tony Kushner an honorary PHD because of his writings about Israel. As a queer Jew, as a graduate of CUNY, as a teacher in its SEEK Program for almost 30 years, as a writer who uses public space to look at misuses of power, I am enraged, disappointed beyond words at this betrayal of what I thought CUNY represented. Now I know the Board of Trustees does not represent the students, the faculty, the other wonders of brave thinking of this New York much loved and needed institution, it does represent the heart of power that stands for the institution.  As an American Jewish queer, I see how indirectly Israel's call for loyalty above all else is having an impact on our democracy. Tony Kushner is America's, perhaps the world's, greatest living playwright. As his latest play shows, he makes us ask uncomfortable questions about both our personal and public lives as Americans, he does the work of an artist. I cannot go on; I know many others will take this all on, this moment of what I call Jewish McCarythism and the cowards who supported it. Ironically, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, uses the gay word in his censuring of Kushner: "Especially when the State of Israel, which is our sole democratic ally in the area, sits in the neighborhood which is almost universally dominated by administrations which are almost universally misogynist, anti-gay, anti-Christian,"; here is the false appeal to gay nationalisms. No word of how America has supported, encouraged, paid for, given overwhelming arms to these same flourishing dictatorships, no word of the Arab Spring where against all the odds, women and men within these countries are taking on with so little all the powers of the up to now American supported regimes. Do not ever speak for me, Mr Wiesenfeld, this queer woman Jew. Not all your power can change what more and more of us are saying, within Israel and without, Jews and non-Jews: Israel is losing its soul with every day of the Occupation, with every checkpoint, with every punishing barrier to hope for a future for young Palestinians in Gaza, in the West Bank, with every racist decree of a xenophobic government.

Over ten years ago, I was given an Honorary PhD by the Graduate Center of CUNY. Up to now, I treasured this moment as I treasured the working class, progressive traditions of the university system. Now I am ashamed--not of the students and vast majority of teachers--but at the university's hollow heart of power.

Please note that these words and opinions are mine, not Tony's. He has and will express his own far better then I can.

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