The scandal of CUNY's refusal to offer Tony Kushner an honorary doctorate surprised me in the intensity of its unevolved Jewish conservatism. I was shocked (yes, shocked, I tell you) that CUNY, of all places, would be so vulnerable to this brand of provincial Jewish politics. But one can smell the fear emanating from that board room, the kind of fear that makes people do profoundly stupid things really fast. The special smell of panic sweat.
The first thing that needs addressing is the illiterate Israel politics. This isn't even an instance of "Israel Right or Wrong!" insanity, or even "Israel, Fictitious or Actual!" madness. This is "What Someone Might Have Meant About Israel but I'm Not Even Bothering to Check!" mishegos. The Jewish world, if it really wants to hold onto its People of the Book sobriquet, has to stop mouthing off without actually reading. It's just embarrassing to watch the board of a major academic institution be misled on Jewish grounds by a Jewish man who hasn't done his Jewish homework and then panic like that.
We also need to call out the gay-bash aspect. I have no idea whether Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld is gay or straight. But his tactics here are what I label a "straight-boy bullying" approach. Move into a space, bluster and threaten, squelch discourse and investigation, and grab what you want. It's a style favored by bank robbers wielding big weapons, whether or not there are bullets in the gun.
In a subsequent interview with the Times, Wiesenfeld "said he was surprised to get enough support from other trustees to block the Kushner degree. He had thought, he said, that he was going to register his dissent for the record and move on." In other words, he just had to wave the damn gun in the meeting, nobody even dared him to pull the trigger.
In the same interview, though, he interrupted the reporter's questions and refused to listen or answer. “I want to say something,” Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld said. “The question is offensive. Before you even finish.” Luckily, the New York Times gets to have the next, if not the last, word. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/06/nyregion/opponent-of-honor-for-tony-kushner-criticizes-palestinians.html)
I don't think it's insignificant that Kushner is at once the most intellectually gifted American playwright of his generation, gay, and an energetic leftist (to say the least). His style is interactive, inquisitive, purposefully provocative, and brilliant. The right-wing, gay-bashing, too-lazy-to-think boys always respond to those qualities with bluster and arrogance and emotional excess (think of how Dick Cheney deflected questions about his gay daughter as being too personal, hinting they'd be cause for a fist-fight if anyone persisted, while pushing through the laws that deprived all of us of our rights). Horrifyingly often the press and the public panics and backs down. We panic and back down. "What if it were to come to a real fight? What then?" we cower.
Jews need to stop ranting ignorantly about the threats to Israel as if no more nuanced information were available to them, and other Jews especially have to call them out for it. Men -- straight or gay -- need to stop shifting into straight-boy gear and bullying and bullshitting their way through the world, and we, everybody else, have to stop letting it happen.
Decades ago in Dallas, I worked with a very funny gay designer who needed the Dallas Opera costume shop to get it together in time for the dress rehearsal. His line to us was, "Don't worry, darlings! They'll be fine, but I need to head in there and swing a handbag a little!" The next time one of the right-wing, straight-boy bully types pulls a Wiesenfeld and tries to bluster us into submission, I'd like to think I and all of us will have the presence of mind to swing a handbag in his direction. Because it's 2011, and their day should be long over.