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General News    H2'ed 5/10/11

WAS TONY KUSHNER MEANT TO BECOME THE NEXT HELEN THOMAS?

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Message Danny Schechter

IS TONY KUSHNER THE NEW HELEN THOMAS?

As Posted on Al Jazeera.net

By Danny Schechter
Author of the Crime Of Our Tim e

First they came for Helen Thomas.

After the veteran White House correspondent once spoke inelegantly about her feelings toward Israel - and apologised, to no effect - she was blackballed at the instigation of strident Israeli supporters and her career achievement-standing journalism awards were stripped. She became persona non-grata with many media outlets joining in the denunciations of a colleague they honoured for decades. Many at the time suspected the wrath was especially severe because she is an Arab-American.

Right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter even asked if "that Arab" should be allowed near the president.

But, now a new flap driven by some of the same issues involves a Jewish Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and a leading academic institution in New York.

His name: Tony Kushner, best known for the brilliant "Angels in America" plays that bravely took on AIDS and the hypocrisy, if not criminality, of the prominent Jewish lawyer Roy Cohen - who was an aide to the late fanatically anti-communist symbol, Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Now McCarthy's name has been introduced into a debate following a decision by City University of New York (CUNY) to strip Kushner of an honorary degree, after one conservative pro-Israel trustee took umbrage at his criticisms of the Israeli government and convinced his colleagues to take action.

Supporters of Israel have been primed by their lobby and the Israeli government to confront any and all attempts to "deligitimise" Israel - or even to criticise its government.

Kushner became the symbol of those closet "anti-Semites" or "self-hating Jews" who bash Israel. And so a group of trustees turned him into an Israel hater. He became a new Helen Thomas, even though he is Jewish.

But in New York - unlike Washington, which seems ruled by a conservative media elite that is frequently intimidated, if not directed, by the Israel Lobby - there was a cultural fight back against what was seen as an act of intolerance that violated freedom of thought.

Soon the New York Times was making it a big story, with strong statements against the efforts of conservative Republican trustee Jeffrey S Wiesenfeld, to blackball plans to honour Kushner by John Jay College, one of the system's schools. Wiesenfeld did not win much sympathy when he was quoted as previously questioning whether Palestinians were human.

Blogger MJ Rosenberg offered insight into Wiesenfeld's didactic views:

"Here is Wiesenfeld's rationale for his actions, which he offered in a telephone call with the Atlantic's Jeff Goldberg:

"My mother would call Tony Kushner a kapo," he said in a telephone conversation earlier this morning. Kapos were Jews who worked for the Germans in concentration camps.

Pretty amazing, likening criticising Israel to working with the Nazis to kill Jews. But Wiesenfeld has some strong views. He was also aligned with Pam Geller, the Muslim hater who led the fight against the so-called Ground Zero mosque. He is also an active supporter of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby."

His diatribe was seen as too severe and inflammatory by many civic leaders. Prominent supporters of Israel were soon supporting Kushner, including former Mayor Ed Koch, newspaper publisher Mort Zuckerman and a veritable who's who of cultural figures.

Enter the top officials at CUNY who agreed to review the decision and vowed to reverse it. On May 9 they did so - voting unanimously to restore the award.

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News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at Amazon.com. See Newsdisssector.org/store.htm.
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