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UPDATE: CUNY reconsiders and awards Kushner honorary degree

Many – including AMP – still calling for trustee’s resignation

From the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP):

(CHICAGO 05/11/2011) – The City University of New York Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld will not resign his position in wake of the controversy caused by racist comments he made about Palestinians last week. Wiesenfeld disparaged Palestinians, other Arabs of the Middle East and Muslims in his argument against awarding an honorary degree to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner — whom the trustee said held anti-Semitic views on Israel — during a Board of Trustees meeting on May 2. The board tabled the issue because of Wiesenfeld’s remarks, but reversed its decision and approved the award on Monday after a national outcry.

The American Muslims for Palestine logged an official complaint with the university and called for Wiesenfeld’s resignation on May 9. AMP’s letter was published in its entirety at 1 p.m. on the “Kushner Crisis” blog, on the CUNY Graduate Center Advocate website. At 6:19 p.m., the CUNY Faculty Union officially called for the trustee’s resignation as well, according to the blog.

Wiesenfeld has since been quoted in several sources saying he will not resign his post. Wiesenfeld was quoted in The Atlantic accusing Kushner of “blood-libel” for saying Israel engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. The trustee also said his mother – a Holocaust survivor – would label Kushner a “Kapo,” a derogatory term used for Jews who worked for Nazis in the death camps.

Kushner has said that he will accept the award and also will speak at CUNY’s commencement, according to the Advocate. Kushner also said Wiesenfeld’s behavior was “inappropriate.”

“My feeling is that his [Wiesenfeld’s] behavior both during that meeting and in the many interviews he has given since represents a misuse of his position as a trustee of the City University of New York… I don’t believe his behavior is in any way appropriate and actually I think it had very little to do with any legitimate business of CUNY and had only to do with his own personal and political agenda. I don’t think that’s what a trustee should be about.”

Accord¬ing to the May 2 board tran¬scripts pub¬lished by the New York Times, Mr. Wiesen¬feld said the Middle East’s Arab states “…are misog¬y¬nist, anti-gay, anti-Christian and soci¬eties that are doing today to the Chris¬tians what they did to the 500,000 Jews who lived in the Arab world in 1948 at the time of the cre¬ation of the State of Israel, dis¬pos¬sess¬ing them, mur¬der¬ing them, deport¬ing them.”

Referring to Palestinians, Wiesenfeld told also a New York Times reporter, “Peo¬ple who wor¬ship death for their chil¬dren are not human …They have devel¬oped a cul¬ture which is unprece¬dented in human history.”

CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein told the New York Times on Tuesday that he does not agree with the “strenousness” of Wiesenfeld’s comments, but added the trustee has “done some very good work on the board.”

Nevertheless several sources, including the New York Times and the Atlantic, report that pressure for Wiesenfeld’s resignation is mounting.

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CUNY Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld should resign after he says Palestinians are not humans

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.

Respectfully,

Dr. Hatem Bazian, Chairman
American Muslims for Palestine
Professor of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies
University of California, Berkeley

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