Response to CUNY Decision to Revoke Tony Kushner Honorary Degree

May 5, 2011

In response the City University of New York’s decision not to award an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner because of his views on Israel, J Street and J Street U issued the following statement:

J Street and J Street U strongly object to the City University of New York Board of Trustees decision to revoke an honorary degree that was to be awarded to playwright Tony Kushner, a decision based purely on Kushner’s views on Israel. The American university system and the Jewish community are rightly proud of their commitment to free speech and an open exchange of ideas. Political witch-hunts over what it means to be sufficiently pro-Israel run counter to our belief in freedom of speech and our commitment to open, honest dialogue. University boards should not condition academic recognition on the approval of those with differing views on any issue, and certainly not without providing an opportunity for the person affected to respond. One need not endorse every opinion of Kushner’s on Israel to find his treatment by CUNY unacceptable. Part of our mission at J Street is to to ensure a broad debate on Israel and the Middle East in national politics and the American Jewish community, and that includes defending an individual’s right to hold non-traditional views about how best to achieve peace and security for Israelis, Palestinians, and the region as a whole. Brandeis University, which similarly came under attack for offering Kushner an honorary degree, offered a model CUNY should have followed: “Mr. Kushner is not being honored because he is a Jew, and he is not being honored for his political opinions. Brandeis is honoring him for his extraordinary achievements as one of this generation’s foremost playwrights, whose work is recognized in the arts and also addresses Brandeis’s commitment to social justice.” We urge the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York to reconsider this misguided decision.