City University of New York Trustee, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld has once again proven himself worthy of the Education Advocate of the Year Award he received at the recent Queens Village Republican Club’s Lincoln Dinner. The son of two Holocaust survivors, he is a trustee accountable to the community he serves for exposing what’s doing behind the scenes at the public academic institutions of New York City. He has been a fearless voice against the domination of the widespread anti-Israel agenda on CUNY campuses and is now engaged in a heroic battle for what is right.
Wiesenfeld spoke at the May 2nd meeting of the CUNY Board of Trustees in objection to the awarding of an honorary degree to inflammatory playwright Tony Kushner by John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and for his due diligence, he has become the target of an academic lynch mob rising up in Kushner’s defense. The board normally rubber stamps all the honorary degrees given by CUNY as well as this year’s, awarded to such luminaries as former New York Mayor Edward Koch, Bernard Spitzer, the father of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, and Joel Klein, the city’s former schools chancellor. But after Wiesenfeld made his objections known, the board of trustees voted not to honor Kushner.
Kushner has been active with organizations that promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. He has said that Israel was “founded in a program that, if you really want to be blunt about it, was ethnic cleansing,” and claims that the creation of the State of Israel “was a mistake.” Wiesenfeld pointed out that Kushner’s extremist views on the State of Israel would only tarnish the reputation of CUNY should he receive an honorary degree.
In response to the board’s denial of the honors, Kushner fired off a letter to Chairman of the Board Benno Schmidt and the trustees claiming he’s the victim of a “vicious attack” and an “unfair fight” in which he was denied representation. Wiesenfeld fired back “that Mr. Kushner REPEATS the very statements for which he is best known. If such libelous statements were made by anyone outside the Jewish community, that person would be correctly labeled an anti-Semite” and an anti-Semite is one who makes slanderous statements against Israel for the fictitious “crimes” concocted by those who aim to delegitimize the only democratic state in the region.
Wiesenfeld said that he would not have the right to deny an earned degree to any detestable individual who fulfilled the requisite requirements even if he were “David Duke or Lynne Stewart or Sonny Carson.” However awarding an honorary degree is within the “absolute discretion of the board to grant.” His dissenting voice was necessary since Kushner’s extremist point of view would be damaging for any university’s image.
Suddenly a torrent of protest was unleashed against Wiesenfeld from every liberal Jewish group, CUNY faculty bodies, campus organizations, the New York media and by Edward Koch who called for his “resignation or removal” from the board of trustees. However, one can only be removed for “misconduct or malfeasance,” not for the right to dissent. The CUNY faculty union president, Barbara Bowen an anti-Israel extremist herself, protested that the trustees’ decision was an “insult to the academic judgment of the faculty.” American Association of University Professors (AAUP) activists charged Wiesenfeld and the trustees with “McCarthyism.”
In response, the executive committee of the CUNY Board of Trustees hastily scheduled a meeting on May 9 after receiving a missive from the board’s chairman saying that the trustees made “a mistake of principal, and not merely of policy,” in voting down the honorary degree. They reversed course and voted unanimously to grant the honors to Kushner.
In reaction to the panicky decision of the executive committee caving in to political pressure, there has also been a flood of individuals, faculty and Jewish groups of good conscience standing up for Wiesenfeld and calling for the board to reverse its reckless decision. The Association of CUNY Alumni and Retirees sent a letter to the board of trustees in Wiesenfeld’s defense. Outraged at the “character assassination” of Trustee Wiesenfeld as well as the bullying into silence of politically pro-Israel CUNY students and faculty, they are calling for an investigation into the “anti-Israel and anti-Semitic culture that is growing, aided and abetted by the campus administration.”
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), an academic group representing 55,000 scholars, researchers and students wrote to the Board of Trustees expressing their distress with the reversal of the board’s decision that reveals “that a distinguished university easily succumbs to political pressure” and demanded they “act immediately to reverse this deeply uninformed decision.” A Wall Street Journal opinion column laments that CUNY overturned the board’s decision: “Mr. Wiesenfeld’s ‘mistake’ was not appreciating that hostility to Israel has become such a deeply embedded principle of the modern academy that objecting to it earns you denunciation as a censor and philistine.”
As the debate intensifies, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld has remained unbowed, revealing the moral courage to stand up and fight for what is right. While the left can effortlessly mobilize academics, media and celebrities who show their anti-Israel bona fides, we patriotic scholars, students and citizens need to rally behind Wiesenfeld in his quest for justice. We need to tell the Board of Trustees to reverse its decision. We need to send a message to Kushner and his academic minions that instead of denouncing the State of Israel, they should save their outrage for the Arab dictatorships massacring their own citizens and widespread atrocities against millions of gays, women, Christians and political activists.