The American Muslims for Palestine is calling for the immediate resignation of CUNY Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld for his racist and bigotted comments about Palestinian last week. In explaining his reasons for withholding an honorary degree from pre-eminent American playwright Tony Kushner, Mr. Wiesenfeld told a New York Times reporter that Palestinians are not human and that they have developed a culture of worshiping death, unprecedented in history. In a letter to CUNY Chairman Benno Schmidt, AMP Chairman Dr. Hatem Bazian expresses AMP’s deep concern that an educational institution would tolerate such comments.
Board of Trustees
The City University of New York
Benno Schmidt, Chairman
May 6, 2011
Dear Chairman Benno Schmidt:
I am writing to express our deep concern about the comments made recently by Trustee Jeffery Wiesenfeld concerning the honorary degree for playwright Tony Kushner.
As you know, Mr. Kushner was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in drama for his seminal work, “Angels in America,” which positively contributed to the national dialogue on AIDS, bringing a new level of understanding about the disease and those stricken with it.
Reports indicate that CUNY may reverse its decision and bestow the award anyway. That is good. However, my reason for writing goes beyond the honorary degree.
We find it deeply troubling that the prestigious Board of Trustees would include a member whose views on Palestinians are deeply bigoted and racist.
According to a May 5, 2011, New York Times article by Jim Dwyer, Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld said there is no “moral equivalency” between Palestinians and Israelis. He went on to say terribly racist, egregious things about Palestinians which, were they said about any other ethnic groups, never be tolerated. We are calling for Mr. Wiesesnfeld’s immediate resignation.
Referring to Palestinians, Mr. Wiesenfeld told the reporter, “People who worship death for their children are not human …They have developed a culture which is unprecedented in human history.”
Furthermore, in the transcripts from the Board of Trustees meeting, Mr. Wiesenfeld shows either a total lack of knowledge and understanding about the Middle East or a propensity to obfuscate facts on the ground to promote a biased and untrue viewpoint.
According to the transcripts published on May 6, 2011, by the New York Times, Mr. Wiesenfeld said, “… State of Israel, which is our sole democratic ally in the area sits in the neighborhood which is almost universally dominated by administrations which are misogynist, anti-gay, anti-Christian and societies that are doing today to the Christians what they did to the 500,000 Jews who lived in the Arab world in 1948 at the time of the creation of the State of Israel, dispossessing them, murdering them, deporting them.”
These characterizations are patently untrue as a review of any number of historians on the Middle East – including Israeli academics such as Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe – will show, and the board’s silence on the matter is also deeply concerning.
As the Board of Trustees is charged with setting policy and procedures for the City University, we are frankly concerned about Mr. Wiesenfeld’s comments in that they could potentially help create a hostile environment under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act on your campuses for the many Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students. Mr. Wiesenfeld’s comments also call into question his ability to act fairly on issues that may pertain to Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students, and such a perception sullies the reputation of the entire board and the university system itself. A university should be a place that welcomes diversity not one that makes decisions based upon the fallacious and bigoted opinion of one board member.
Dr. Hatem Bazian, Chairman
American Muslims for Palestine
Professor of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies
University of California, Berkeley