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Zionist vs. Zionist

By Michael J. Smith on Thursday May 5, 2011 10:20 PM

Life in New York is really a glorious cycle of song, a medley of extemporanea. Where else can a tedious Zionist playwright get denied an honorary degree from a fifth-rate cop college because he's not Zionist enough?

School blocks Kushner honor over Israel

For the second time in just six months, the City University of New York has become embroiled in scandal over the politics of the Israel-Palestine conflict. This week, the CUNY board of trustees blocked an attempt by one of its member colleges to award an honorary degree to the celebrated playwright Tony Kushner, who is also a prominent Jewish critic of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

A request by John Jay College to award Kushner an honorary degree was tabled on Monday night after one CUNY board member criticized -- and, Kushner argues, distorted -- the playwright's past statements on Israel.

John Jay College! The John Jay College Of Criminal Knowledge, as an old activist pal of mine used to call it -- a place where aspiring police apparatchiks go to get their tickets punched and ascend a rung or two on the bureaucratic ladder above their less energetic coevals.

Why on earth did this dubious institution want to give an honorary degree to one of the more prominent advocates of Gay Nationalism? Only in New York -- it's like an Italian being Grand Marshal of the St Patrick's parade. We're great at that sort of thing. Implausible alliances are our life's blood -- you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

But of course it gets better. Too Much Is Not Enough -- that really ought to be the town's motto.

The driving force behind the decision to table the honorary degree for Kushner is CUNY board member Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a principal at the firm Bernstein Global Wealth Management. He is also a former aide to Sen. Al D'Amato, R-N.Y., a trustee at the pro-Israel think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and an organizer of the Salute to Israel Day Parade Committee.

"There is a lot of disingenuous and non-intellectual activity directed against the state of Israel on campuses throughout the country, the West generally, and oftentimes the United States as well," Wiesenfeld [said]."

Of course this is deeply unfair to Kushner, though one hates to say it. One wants to think well of everybody; but candor obliges us to acknowledge that Kushner has not deserved this compliment:
[Kushner] has also repeatedly said that he is a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist, that he has never supported a boycott of the country, and that his views are shared by many Jews and supporters of Israel.

“I have been honored many times by prominent Jewish organizations, proudly identified as a Jew and maintained a passionate support for the continuous existence of the State of Israel,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “An apology should come from the Board of Trustees for not following the dictates of simple fairness and decency when this happened, and allowing someone who deserved better treatment to be treated shabbily.”

Kushner goes on to cite Benny Morris, who famously discovered -- somewhat belatedly -- that Palestinians had been expropriated in order to create the Light Of The Nations, and ultimately concluded that well, you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs. And what a delicious divine omelette it is!

Kushner, of course, is not quite as complacent about the great crime as Morris. Which is all to his credit, as far as it goes. But it doesn't go very far.

I've seen a couple dozen appeals on my lefty lists today: Let's rally to Kushner's support! Hey, this guy won a Tony! Who do these pathetic time-serving political has-beens on the CUNY board think they are, compared to a Tony jury?

It's a thoroughly accurate characterization of the CUNY board -- though it probably applies with equal force to the Tony jury. And if Kushner were Norman Finkelstein, or Joel Kovel, I'd sign the petition.

But he's not. His defense against Wiesenfeld is that he's actually not anti-Israel as charged; that his views have been "distorted". If so, they've been distorted into something approximating a reasonable outlook.

Then too, one always likes to see the cant of the Credentialling Sector exposed. These institutions like to bill themselves as havens of fearless free inquiry, etc., but as anybody who works in one knows, they are much more often merely part of the apparatus of indoctrination, and factories for the reproduction of received opinion.

Update: subsequent developments.

Comments (22)


Ah yes, Benny Morris, the tightly wound colonial-settler historian and the salutary effects of daydreaming:

[Benny] Morris now provides a moral justification for ethnic cleansing that he did not offer before the second intifada, arguing that "[e]ven the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians." Native Americans and those with a sounder knowledge of North American history may demur. But in Israel, appeal to the authority of the US is the ultimate clincher in any argument. Yearning for the success of the American example, Morris now criticizes Israel's first prime minister and defense minister, David Ben-Gurion, for failing to do "a complete job" because "this place would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all. If Ben-Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country". It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake." Palestine-Israel might also be quieter today if Hitler had completed his planned genocide of world Jewry. It does not occur to Morris that there might be a parallel between these two historical counterfactuals. The first is in the realm of acceptable speculation; the second is too obviously outrageous to consider.

Here's raw material for playwright Kushner: his unwitting metamorphosis into a Nazi death camp guard as observed by the Zionist imagination.

Finkelstein, or Sand - you betcha.


Shlomo Sand is no great iconoclast, despite the seemingly radical agenda of his book The Invention of the Jewish People which lays out a thesis that used to be conventional wisdom a few decades ago. He is all for the acceptance of the status quo like Kushner himself, just that to the totalitarian imagination anything less than 98% conformity looks like a stab in the back. In his review of Sand's work, Yitzhak Laor, a longtime critic of the pretensions of liberal Zionism noted that Sand's purpose is to "collude with that which he set out to criticize—like Balaam, who had been sent to curse the Children of Israel but ended up blessing them."

If the first link in my earlier post doesn't cooperate, try this instead.

I don't know if you've read "The Invention...", Sk - but I have.

I'm not relying on some shitheel academic's assessment of it. I've read it for myself.

And it's an unrelenting deconstruction of the Jewish religious community as a people and as a race. I don't fucking care if he's "conventional" in his acceptance of the status quo (and that's certainly not the read I got from his rejection of his own Zionist past) - he's taking aim at the centerpiece of the Zionist project itself - that Jews are a nation who deserve an ancient national land.

I came away from "The Invention..." armed with the knowledge that the Jewish nation was in fact invented by 18th and 19th centurty Germans, Poles and Russians who learned it in their own newly minted nationalist homelands and who either ignored or refused to accept that for most of known history, "Israel" and "Jew" were aristocratic, priestly and religious identifiers.


Anyone who publishes poems like "Balance" below and who was the first of two to refuse compulsory military service — earning military jail time — doesn't sound like your run of the mill academic:

The gunner who wiped out a hospital the pilot
who torched a refugee camp the journalist
who courted hearts & minds for murder the actor
who played it as just another war the teacher
who sanctioned the bloodshed in class the rabbi
who sanctified the killing the government minister
who sweatily voted the paratrooper
who shot the three time refugee the poet
who lauded the finest hour of the nation
who scented blood and blessed the MiG. The moderates
who said let's wait & see the party hack
who fell over himself in praising the army the sales clerk
who sniffed out traitors the policeman
who beat an Arab in the anxious street the lecturer
who tapped on the officer's back with envy of the officer
who was afraid of refusing the prime minister
who eagerly drank down the blood. "They "
shall not be cleansed.

Joel Benin, linked to in last post, who spent years excavating history of the Egyptian Working Class in Cairo's industrial areas doesn't come across as your standard issue academic either. He put his finger on the problem in writings of almost all Israeli "New Historians": their "diehard positivism" and literalism which to the uninitiated seems ground-breaking and scrupulously factual, but which in reality lends itself handily to buttressing the stasis of a lifetime:

Indeed, like most traditional Israeli historians he rejects the view that proper scholarly practices have political implications. Despite the sympathy it might arouse for their plight, Morris' historical method contributes to the historical and political marginalization of the Palestinians. Moreover, his positivist and literalist approach to reading archival evidence results in a historical incoherence which renders the experiences of the Palestinians and other Arabs obscure if not incomprehensible.

Or, as Perry Anderson put it, these Israeli academics remain — with a few honorable exceptions like Ilan Pappe — "analytical lions", but "prescriptive lambs":

It is in this context that both the courage and pusillanimity of 'post-Zionism' can be measured. The outstanding intellectual achievement of the work of Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Gershom Shafir, Baruch Kimmerling, Tom Segev, is now widely acknowledged. One edifice after another of official Zionist mythology has been dismantled. But the fearless research and uncompromising judgment that have been typical marks of their investigations of the past stop suddenly short in the present, as soon as political questions are posed. Analytical lions, these authors are prescriptive lambs. Not one seriously queried Oslo, let alone Camp David. More than one gushed over Barak. None has proposed any alternative to the hypocrisies of the 'peace process'.

Nice comment, Mr. Smith. Kushner also co-wrote that abomination of a film, Munich, which I criticize at length in Israel's Dead Soul.


i must be a zionic
i'm a two stater from 47

Interesting, sk, that you don't actually mention Sand or his work in your reply.

I'd love to discuss the book with you. But, you'd have to actually read it.


Jack, maybe you drank deeply from the Zionist Flavor-Aid vat in your formative years, and thus find Sand's findings so earth-shaking. For those of use who found it hard to take seriously shibboleths like race=religion — whose foundations are in turn even shakier, to put it no stronger than that — there was little in what Sand "discovered", which in any case can be found in tendentious speeches of Zionist big-wigs like Ben-Gurion from first half of last century in copious quantities (hence, what I referred to earlier as what used to pass as "conventional wisdom"). I've scanned Sand's book and provided a link to an audio interview of him at smbiva almost exactly one year ago. Perhaps you find debating the finer points of population genetics and their connection to social constructs like race and/or religion of interest — all supported by evidence so flimsy (e.g. a 14th century traveler from Constantinople quoting the received opinion of his inn-keeper in the "Holy Land" on the matter of Turkic Khazars) that it's a marvel people can get so wrapped around the axle of such trivia, but these can be touchy matters if one's tribal identity is caught up in the debate. Being a bit of a positivist myself, I tend to keep a low profile in such jousts and given that what is definitively known is rather meager, I get a little uncomfortable building castles in the sky on issues medieval or antiquarian, as these debates tend to turn more on literary/biblical analysis and are more of a reflection of our own preoccupations and worldviews than anything that may have actually transpired under the Sun.

Zionist flavor aid? Man, I'm almost prefer Dawson. He knows how draw a bow, however sloppy his aim.


Zionist flavor aid? Man, I'm almost prefer Dawson. He knows how draw a bow, however sloppy his aim.

Great, invite the absent Dawson into the mix. That'll get things back on an even keel ;-)



'prefer dawson'

the closer you strike to poor crow's
ever so soft and outchy hidden heart
the greater the protests of invulnerability

i doubt crows got any jew in him

more likely
a fugitive catholic
an arthrititic pyhronism
runs fast
thru those coarse grained souls
produced by the papists'
catecismical cracking device
runs fast and swells hot and angry

nope no jew he
not even 1/16th like myself

bit of a positivist
a brave admission

i'll recipricate
i'm a bit of a dry knuckle rationalist


Good for you! I'm sure future generations will have plenty to be grateful for because of your facility with fractions.


Too cryptic friend


Btw sk
U seem to take praise in ill stride

Sigh. The reflexive "if you don't prefer my flavor of critic of Israel you must be a Zionist" is boring. That's the whole of it. It's boring.

On top of being stupid.

The pissing contest you want, sk, about who's a better anti-Zionist?

Have it with the mirror.


crow you seem to have missed sk's bull's eye hit on this crum
have some guts back off your endorsement
round here you have no rep for infallibility to lose
do you ??

for a nihilist anti authority sceptic
saying stuff of the form

" seems i may have been mistaken about A .."

oughta be duck soup


this kovel cat not on my scope till
the wide ranging 10 league booted mjs drew on him here for his "would fight for list"

despite consorting with trots
looks like he harvested his fair share
of libertarian nit wits and anarcho-nerds in his time as an eco socialist not to be confused with an echo socialist such as
whats hiz face
hippins or something
not the brit sot now dying of complications from evilitis
the former pastorial goo goo turned cat
on a live wire
you know ..we golfed him around here a while back

oh to hell with
what are virtual gulags for if not to fill
like hilbert hotels ther's always room for more
so why take a chance

"send kovel ...to spritz-frig-nitz zek tank # 83 ....NOW !!!"

we must all love the class enemy
once he's safely confined
lets cure him
after all he could be you ...next time


The difference between Kovel and Kushner is that Kovel really is anti-Zionist and Kushner is not. Therefore Kushner's ill-treatment, such as it is, just strikes me as funny -- a man bitten by his own ill-natured Doberman, as it were. Whereas Kovel has taken some significant flak for expressing views with which I more or less agree; Overcoming Zionism is a pretty good book and I recommend it. I'm not familiar with his writings on other topics, so can't comment.



i agree that is the clear distinction

anti zionist versus
tameed zionist or de balled zionist
or cat food humanity comes first zionism
it melts at its left end
into pluralistic mush
at the right end it gets to hardening
into a nasty liberal fig leaf operation
kush seems to fall all over this spectrum depending on the balance of push pull
operating at the moment

still amaxes me how the zionics can scowl a jew into a minimal genuflect and line towing

its impressive
wish we commies had that sort of unofficial clout on our
" vasty and diverse flock"

err in our case potential flock
perhaps unfortunately
remains a clearer label

to digress

i wonder when we will move from this obviously still post party stage here in the States
to another pre party stage

ya ya i know octobers to light up the whole planet even freedonia here
are exceeding rare

relying on our internal class contradictions
seems likely to lead only to minority based leniniist orgs if any
that is real wageling and jobbler
based outfits

i'd hoped the great undoc eruption
might spark some cohesion-ing
of rad circles of hispanics but ....


Fun stuff, as always, and yet you do realize that
you are cuffing around totally ignored old folks in soft shoes.
Bernie Sanders did his last TV debate in the poor backwater territory of Vermont in soft Hush Puppies, revealed by the camera when it pulled back from hizzoner. Now, I am no one for caricature, you can let your freak flay fly however you want, like David Mamet or Santa Claus, but soft shoes are a giant step beyond.

And, having seen a doc on Mr. Joel Kovel on FSTV, featuring Mr. Kovel boring the assembled Bard College seminar conscripts with some guru-ing about echt echo eco blatheration, I left the petition blank when it came around to reinstating this latest should-be emeritus to the pontificating grading chair of real-life educamation.
Give 'em all soft shoes and a pleasant oak tree and an old Jeffersonian table, and all of them can engage in bore wars between themselves with an occasional lift off the ground from an attending nurse: Nader, Sanders, Kovel, Sheldon Wolin, the ascetics of the 60s turned eminence for the celestial pie crowd.
There's a later generation right behind them, ready to jump from left-lib punditry into soft-shoe dotage - and you named a couple of 'em, OP.
Meanwhile, Benno Schmidt just bought another yacht.


Jeez, this is a tough crowd.

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