From the reaction of many on the liberal/left to the controversy over CUNY’s granting an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner, one sees yet again just how unremarkable and acceptable the most virulent views of Israel have become, even – perhaps especially – among Jews.
One can debate till the cows come home the merits or demerits of the decision to honor Kushner. The real issue is how pundits like Roger Cohen of The New York Times and Sarah Wildman of the (London) Guardian and Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast can insist on characterizing Kushner as merely critical of this or that Israeli policy when, in fact, his long paper trail paints an unmistakable portrait of a man wracked with guilt over the very creation of Israel and bitterly opposed to any and every defensive or retaliatory measure undertaken by the Israeli governement, no matter the provocation.
Contrary to what his liberal defenders in the media would have you think, Kushner’s mindset when it comes to Israel is not that of a Jew who has a preference for the Labor or Kadima approach as opposed to that of Likud (or vice versa).
No, Kushner’s is a mindset that compelled him to sign his name to a newspaper advertisement released by the Not In Our Name Project in 2002 that viciously attacked both the U.S. and Israel. Sample: “In our name, the Bush administration, with near unanimity from Congress, not only attacked Afghanistan but arrogated to itself and its allies the right to rain down military force anywhere and any time. The brutal repercussions have been felt from the Philippines to Palestine, where Israeli tanks and bulldozers have left a terrible trail of death and destruction.”
It is a mindset that inspired him to sit on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an outfit that boasts of its support for divestment measures against Israel while swallowing whole hog the Palestinian “narrative” with its mission statement that “Israel must stop land seizures; destruction of homes, infrastructure, orchards and farms; arbitrary arrests and imprisonment; torture; assassinations; expulsions; curfews; travel restrictions; abuse at checkpoints; raids; collective punishment; and other violations of human rights.”
It is a mindset that led him to co-edit, along Alisa Solomon, a nauseating volume, published in 2003, called Wrestling With Zion:Progressives Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. In that book, Kushner and Solomon advanced the notion that Operation Defensive Shield – Israel’s 2002 military operation in the Palestinian territories, launched only after scores of Israelis had been killed in numerous suicide bombings and roadside shootings – was the manifestation of “Ariel Sharon’s mad, bloody dream of Greater Israel, which he and his comrades of the radical Israeli right have pursued for decades.”
Kushner was particularly outspoken on the subject of Operation Defensive Shield, telling an interviewer in 2002, “I deplore the brutal and illegal tactics of the Israeli Defence Forces in the occupied territories. I deplore the occupation, the forced evacuations, the settlements, the refugee camps, the whole shameful history of the dreadful suffering of the Palestinian people; Jews, of all people, with our history of suffering, should refuse to treat our fellow human beings like that.”
In another interview that year he said “The existence of the state of Israel, because of the terrible way that the Palestinian people have been treated, is now in great peril and the world is in peril as a consequence of it.”
Many of Kushner’s other remarks about Israel have been floating around the Internet for years and garnered renewed scrutiny as the CUNY controversy played itself out; remarks such as “I think the founding of the state of Israel was for the Jewish people a historical, moral, political calamity . I wish modern Israel hadn’t been born”; “I can unambivalently say that I think that it’s a terrible historical problem that modern Israel came into existence”; “[Israel was] founded in a program that, if you really want to be blunt about it, was ethnic cleansing “
If Kushner is simply a well-meaning, unjustly attacked critic of Israel, the same desription may as well be applied to spokesmen for Hamas or Hizbullah, because there’s precious little daylight between his statements and theirs.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.