Yesterday I wrote that the Tony Kushner debacle was a waste of pro-Israel political capital. Today I want to go even further: denying Kushner an honorary degree on the basis of his politics is equivalent to silencing pro-Israel speech and boycotting Israeli academics and cultural events. In my opinion it is no different than the ugly intimidation tactics of PACBI, BDS, etc.
For goodness sakes, Israeli universities employ the largest number of Jewish anti-Zionist academics in the world. We may hate their work but the discourse we must engage in is to challenge their ideas, not silence them. We can't claim to promote
Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East and then turn around and abuse the freedoms democracy grants all speech.
As former NYC Mayor Israel supporter, Ed Koch, said yesterday, “I can’t think of a dumber academic action. What does Kushner receiving an award have to do with criticism of the State of Israel? I am a well-known supporter of that nation. What if I were denied an honorary degree because of my strong support for that state? That would make as much sense as denying Mr. Kushner a degree.”
Furthermore, this pathetic strong-arm action initiated by Republican patron Jeffrey Wiesenfeld threatens to 1) make a mockery of legitimate challenges to institutional anti-Zionism, 2) allow right-wing politicians to own the pro-Israel position, giving anti-Zionists an opportunity to exploit that partisanship, 3) Kushner and anti-Zionists, for all their huffing, are enjoying the attention this gives their position, 4) there are far bigger fish to fry, eg, the Methodist Church's new document on Israel and Palestine.
Already, the media is jumping on this story and efforts to demonize legitimate anti-anti-Zionist critiques are emerging. It may start with honorary degree holders renouncing their awards and will, no doubt, end with petitions and letters claiming that the pro-Israel community is holding critics of Israeli policies hostage; think Move Over AIPAC and accusations of Israel Lobby manipulations.