Phi Beta Cons

Standing Up for Wiesenfeld in His Challenge to Extremism at CUNY

Posting at Democracy Project, Phil Orenstein recounts the latest developments regarding, one, the panic-stricken reversal by the City University of New York Board of Trustees of its decision not to award an honorary degree to anti-Israel extremist Tony Kushner; and, two, the torrent of protest loosed by assorted leftists on Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who drove the board’s original ruling to withhold the degree from Kushner, on grounds that honoring any such extremists harms the university’s reputation.  

As Orenstein notes, “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.”

For example, the Association of CUNY Alumni and Retirees sent a letter to the board of trustees in Wiesenfeld’s defense, protesting his “character assassination” as well as the browbeating into silence of pro-Israel CUNY students and faculty. The group is also demanding an investigation into the “anti-Israel and anti-Semitic culture that is growing, aided and abetted by the campus administration.”

In addition, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), an academic group representing 55,000 scholars, researchers, and students wrote to the Board of Trustees voicing their concern with its reversal of decision, which illustrates how “a distinguished university easily succumbs to political pressure,” and urging that they “act immediately to reverse this deeply uninformed decision.”

A Wall Street Journal opinion column joined in Wiesenfeld’s defense by observing that his ”‘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.”

Orenstein concludes fittingly by praising Wiesenfeld’s moral courage, calling for support of him, and urging the board to reverse its cowardly bowing to leftist pressure:

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.

Candace de Russy is a nationally recognized expert on education and cultural issues.

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