Several years ago, when Brandeis University announced it would grant an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner, there was a hue and cry due to his notorious statements questioning the legitimacy of the Jewish state and claiming Israel was built on theft of Palestinian land and Palestinian suffering. He also stated that “The biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community.”
Brandeis went ahead with the Kushner award (the school has also bestowed an honorary degree on longtime Israel-basher Bishop Desmond Tutu) and issued the following explanation:
Brandeis bestows honorary degrees as a means of acknowledging the outstanding accomplishments or contributions of individual men and women in any of a number of fields of human endeavor. Just as Brandeis does not inquire into the political opinions and beliefs of faculty or staff before appointing them, or students before offering admission, so too the University does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions.
However, two weeks ago Brandeis withdrew an honorary award slated to be given to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an internationally recognized defender of women’s rights with a particular focus on the Muslim world’s practices of female genital mutilation and forced marriages. Brandeis, which had to have known about her record of criticism of Islam, pulled the honor after pressure from a Muslim advocacy group and a number of faculty members and students.
A university statement explained the withdrawal this way:
She is a compelling public figure and advocate for human rights and we respect and respect her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world. That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University core values.”
An obvious double standard is being employed, doubtless because Brandeis is not prepared to risk Muslim ire even as it had no problem disregarding Jewish objections to honoring Mr. Kushner and Bishop Tutu.
But where is the outrage from the black community over this insult to an individual of unusual accomplishment and commitment who happens to be a woman of color? And why the silence of feminists in the face of such a slight to a vocal opponent of female oppression?