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Jewish Umbrella Group Defends Wiesenfeld in CUNY/Kushner Saga

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Posted on May 17 2011 6:12 pm
Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at City University of New York. For extended biography visit The Phyllis Chesler Organization.

On the evening of May 15, 2011, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) emailed a letter to the Board of Trustees at City University of New York about the Wiesenfeld/Kushner/CUNY scandal. SPME is an academic group which represents 55,000 professors, researchers and students on 3,500 campuses worldwide.

Thus far, no New York mainstream media has covered this truly significant event and unprecedented act of academic courage. I checked today’s New York Daily News, the New York Post, and New York Times (NYT). As we know, the NYT published more than 10 articles, blogs, and columns on the brouhaha.

With the exception of the article written by Stanley Fish, the articles essentially defended Tony Kushner as a Great Artist-victim and pilloried Jeffrey Wiesenfeld as a bully. Few articles dealt with the issues. Everyone avoided doing so by attacking Wiesenfeld personally. Wiesenfeld was depicted as a man “obsessed” with Israel who, for that reason, was no longer entitled to free speech or to academic freedom. Wiesenfeld was also demonized by the Forward and by the New York Observer.

In other words, if a Trustee of a university does not toe the political party line against Israel and in favor of “Palestine,” then he will be slimed and asked to resign.

When serious journalists and academics defend him—as Scholars for Peace in the Middle East just did and as I have done—it is as if we have not spoken. There is very little coverage, feedback, or flack. I googled the CUNY/Kushner/Wiesenthal/SPME subject and found that only pro-Israel blogs had covered it and that only one small blog took issue with SPME.

So far, two SPME Board members have heard absolutely nothing. True, it is only two days later, but still…I will continue to monitor the media coverage. If Jeffrey Wiesenfeld is allowed to twist in the wind alone merely for voicing his opinion (which is based on reality), then no lesser personage on campuses across America (a non-trustee who is not yet tenured) will dare speak out about Israel—unless they are in favor of boycotting, disarming, or abolishing the Jewish state.

This is typical behavior for left-wing politically correct thinkers. If you disagree with something, you pretend it does not exist. You do not read it, publish it, review it, or talk to the author. If something you disagree with persists or commands power of any kind, then you demonize the person as a way of avoiding the issues.

Now something also really big has just happened.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York has written to the Chair of the Board of Trustees at CUNY, Benno Schmidt, and to CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein. This Council represents approximately fifty Jewish organizations (including the ADL, AJC, Hadassah, Hillel, Jewish National Fund, Young Israel, New York Board of Rabbis, UJA, Union of Reform Judaism, the Orthodox Union, the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, ZOA, the American Sephardi Association, etc.) and is headed by some Major Jewish Players.

One wonders if their letter will be treated as if it did not arrive and does not exist. The letter urges that Trustee Wiesenfeld not be pressured to resign. I am reprinting part of it here:

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York has never taken a position regarding the worthiness of any particular honorary degree recipient. We respect the process delineated in CUNY Policy 1.19, which appropriately includes a system of checks and balances that ultimately grants the CUNY Board of Trustees the final determination of honorary degrees.

We are troubled though that it appears that the explicit right and duty of a CUNY Trustee under Policy 1.19 – to express his/her views and vote his/her conscience – are now being challenged. Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld’s opinions, presented in good faith, unleashed a cacophonous barrage of calls for his resignation. Whether Trustee Wiesenfeld was right or wrong about Item 8 on the May 2, 2011 Board of Trustees’ meeting is immaterial. His fellow Trustees had the responsibility to evaluate and to accept or reject his assertions.

We believe that academic freedom cannot be exclusively limited to faculty and/or students. Indeed, that right applies to all sectors of the academy, including Trustees. We are shocked that people – including zealous advocates of academic freedom and free speech – have called for a Trustee’s removal because they disagree with his ideas and/or his desire to articulate them. Mr. Wiesenfeld’s freedom to state his views and opinions – whether one agrees with him or not – is equal to the freedom granted to faculty, students or even honorary degree nominees.

We view any effort to remove Trustee Wiesenfeld, or any Trustee, for acting in – what he considered – CUNY’s best interest is unacceptable both as university policy and as public policy.

UPDATE: The Jewish Week has just published a staff article about both the SPME and the JCRC letters. And, the influential Daily Alert, put out by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has linked to the Jewish Week article.

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