Role reversal: Jeffrey Wiesenfeld comes under scrutiny

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld has made it a career habit to try and marginalize anyone he perceived to be insufficiently pro-Israel and to smear Muslims and Arabs.  But in the wake of the Tony Kushner degree controversy, it is Wiesenfeld’s politics, racism and abuse of power that are coming under scrutiny.

Wiesenfeld, a trustee at the AIPAC-created think-tank called the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was a board member for the so-called Stop the Madrassa Coalition, which led the vicious anti-Arab and anti-Muslim campaign against the Khalil Gibran International Academy.  He also played a role in the short-lived firing of Kristofer Petersen-Overton, a professor at Brooklyn College whose academic scholarship focused on Palestinian identity.  And now, he has single-handedly blocked an honorary degree for playwright Tony Kushner solely for his views on Israel.

This time, though, Wiesenfeld is on the defensive, and it’s entirely his doing.  His abuse of power in nixing an honorary degree for one of the most celebrated artists in America was the first transgression.  His second one was telling the New York Times’ Jim Dwyer that, in effect, he believes that the Palestinian people are “not human.”

The double-shot to the foot has led to a piling up of calls for Wiesenfeld to resign  The New York Times upped the ante in a May 6 editorial calling for Wiesenfeld’s removal:

The trustees of the City University of New York got it exactly backward this week. They supported the political agenda of an intolerant board member and shunned one of America’s most important playwrights. They should have embraced the artist and tossed out the board member.

Wiesenfeld is also taking heat from the former mayor of New York City Ed Koch, despite the fact that Wiesenfeld served in the Koch administration and that Koch shares many of Wiesenfeld’s right-wing political views.

Activist groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations-NY and Jewish Voice for Peace are also demanding Wiesenfeld’s resignation.  Cyrus McGoldrick, the civil rights director for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said:

The underlying issue here is a taboo on addressing the conditions of Palestinian people in the public space. Wiesenfeld may feel that his bigotry is the order of the day, but our tax dollars which support CUNY should not be utilized to dehumanize any people, and we call on CUNY to enforce this basic yet critical notion by removing or demanding the resignation of Jeffrey Wiesenfeld

Some prominent academics have renounced their honorary degrees from CUNY.

The uproar over Wiesenfeld marks an important and ongoing shift in the U.S. discourse on Israel/Palestine, as Jerry Haber writes.  Instead of Kushner being the focus of controversy, Wiesenfeld’s actions have backfired, and it is the powerful CUNY trustee who finds himself the subject of scrutiny.

The controversy will peter out in the coming weeks, as CUNY is set to award Kushner the degree Wiesenfeld sought to nix.  But if the pressure escalates on CUNY so much so that Wiesenfeld is forced to go, it would a victory for free speech and Palestine solidarity and a blow to the Israel lobby.

4 responses to “Role reversal: Jeffrey Wiesenfeld comes under scrutiny

  1. Pingback: Shoe is now on Wiesenfeld’s foot

  2. Right on! I was 15 (in 1936) when I became anti-Zionist. I was an undergraduate at CCNY when the great English philosopher Bertrand Russell was offered a visiting professorship in 1940 by CCNY; it was rescinded by the City Council because some woman complained that his views on marriage would corrupt us.

    I’m glad to see that the trustees have good sense with that late breaking news.

  3. So why are you writing on Mondoweiss about Larry Field, as if his point of view was being adopted by the CUNY board?

    “But if the pressure escalates on CUNY so much so that Wiesenfeld is forced to go, it would a victory for free speech and Palestine solidarity and a blow to the Israel lobby. ”

    It would NOT be a victory for free speech. It would be a major hypocrisy and show once again that Palestine solidarity activists are the ones trying to censor points of view with which they disagree. It would also represent a pass for CUNY board members who failed to do due diligence.

    No one’s free speech has been encroached here. Kushner’s getting his honorary degree. Jeff is being widely criticized, as he should be.

    No one in the Israel lobby cares much about Jeff Wiesenfeld. We see him as a loudmouth who doesn’t represent us or what we stand for. It’s of no consequence to us what happens to him. We understand that people like you are only too eager to paint all of us with the Jeff Wiesenfeld brush.

    However, if you view victory as removing from positions of power anyone who expresses a pro-Israel point of view, then that says a lot more about you than it does about Jeff.

  4. Like your blog, great work.

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