CUNY's John Jay College planned to award the degree to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angels in America, but the trustees voted against the honor after a CUNY trustee expressed concern that Kushner had, in the past, criticized Israel.
Trustee Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld expressed concern about the submission of Kushner's name for an honorary degree. A podcast of the meeting has trustee Wiesenfeld quoting an interview with Kushner that had the playwright characterizing the founding of the State of Israel as involving "ethnic cleansing" and being "a mistake."
"I chose with Mr. Kushner not to look at pro-Israel websites that would give insight into his feelings of Israel," trustee Wiesenfeld said at the public meeting. "Rather, I went to the website of one Norman Finkelstein, another discredited individual that mercifully we rid ourselves of at this university, and he pridefully displays key quotes of Mr. Kushner on his website, which are accurately reflected elsewhere and by Mr. Kushner's record itself."
Kushner, who did not know this action was coming, told the New York Times that he is "dismayed by the vicious attack and wholesale distortion of my beliefs. …This has been an incredibly ugly experience, that a great public university would make a decision based on slanderous mischaracterizations without giving the person in question a chance to be heard."
The CUNY board vote coincides with the week of the Off-Broadway opening of Kushner's new play The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures. It opens May 5 at The Public Theater.