CUNY Trustee Attacks Rabbi Waskow & Shalom Center

I was astonished and amused yesterday to receive a letter to me from Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the CUNY Trustee who (temporarily) persuaded CUNY to deny Tony Kushner an honorary doctorate, by lying about Tony¹s views on Israel.

His letter accused The Shalom Center of being "perfidious"; my comments on his role in the Kushner matter of being "libelous"; and the interview of him in the NY Times of being "part of a concerted campaign to defame me." Below is his letter, verbatim.

Please note that Mr. Wiesenfeld complains about The Shalom Center’s request for our readers – you ! – to support us with tax-deductible donations. He is himself very rich, and does not need the help of such donations to spread his attacks on great artists and prophetic voices like Tony Kushner.

We do need your donations to provide our own and support other independent voices.  I repeat our request that you donate, ideally as Sustaining Members, by clicking here.

After Mr. Wiesenfeld’s letter (in navy blue, to make clear what is his), you will find information on the NY Times interview at which he sneers, and some additional comments of my own. With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace -- Arthur

From: Wiesenfeld, Jeffrey S <>
Date: Wed, May 18, 2011 at 11:38 AM

Subject: "rabbi" uses defamation to raise funds

To: <; 
Cc: <>, <>, <>, BETH GILINSKY <>, Phyllis Chesler <>, Malcolm Hoenlein <>, Hank Sheinkopf <>

Rabbi Waskow:
 Don't use defamation of me to raise funds for your perfidious activities.


Regarding the absolutely outrageous and libelous letter, penned by one Rabbi Waskow, let me be clear: Jim Dwyer's piece in the NY Times was part of a concerted campaign to defame me. I apologize for nothing. I never made the statement that Palestinians were not human.

I was very clear to the reporter at the "newspaper of record" that the Palestinians had developed an official culture of death, with government rewards for the families of suicide bombers, educational incitement to hatred and the like. I also stated that anyone who worships death for their child is not human - it is against the natural order.

Rabbi Waskow, like the Times, spins a yarn to suit his own warped view. If the good rabbi also believes, as does Mr. Kushner, that the Jewish people; the people of Israel are guilty of ethnic cleansing - then he, too merits my unequivocal condemnation.

Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, Trustee
The City University of New York
535 East 80th Street
New York, NY 10075
office: 212-407-5878 <tel:212-407-5878>

fax:    212-407-5850 <tel:212-407-5850>

Since Mr. Wiesenfeld  sneers at the New York Times and its published interview of him,  I have excerpted the Times interview and noted the background of the interviewer at whom he sneers.

In regard to one issue he raises: neither Tony Kushner nor I ever said that “the Jewish people, the people of Israel,” were responsible for ethnic cleansing – that is, forcible removal of Palestinian populations from what became Israeli territory – during the war of 1947-1949.

Tony has said, and I agree,  that there is very strong historical evidence that some leaders of the early Government of Israel in that period did order many Palestinians driven from their homes. One of the historians who uncovered these facts from Israeli archives, Benny Morris, continues to assert the facts at the same time he defends  the actions as necessary in 1947-1949. He is not the only historian to affirm the evidence.

Mr. Wiesenfeld’s making believe that these facts about some parts of the Israeli government 63 years ago are attacks on the “Jewish people, the people of Israel,” shows exactly what is wrong with Mr. Wiesenfeld: He cannot make distinctions between the bad behavior of some people and demonizing a whole community.

He translates the brutal behavior by some Palestinian leaders into demonizing the whole Palestinian people. I do NOT translate the brutal behavior by some Israeli leaders into demoniziong all israelis, or all Jews.

I reaffirm what I wrote about Mr. Wiesenfield. My two essays on his egregious effort to chill  and censor public debate about the policies of the Israeli government can be found on our Home Page.

And an extraordinary interview with Tony Kushner on the occasion a year ago of The Shalom Center’s presenting him with our “Prophetic Vision” award can be clicked here.

We can only do this work, and speak out for independent voices when they are attacked, if you help us – with heart, mind, and money. Please click to the Donate banner on the left-hand column of this page.

Thanks! -- and shalom, Arthur

What follows (in red) are excerpts from the Jim Dwyer interview at which Mr.Wiesenfeld sneers, and some background on his interviewer. 

A University Trustee Expands on His View of What Is Offensive
NY Times, Published: May 5, 2011

On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Wiesenfeld took a phone call about the events at the board meeting, and said he was surprised to get enough support from other trustees to block the Kushner degree. He had thought, he said, that he was going to register his dissent for the record and move on.
I tried to ask a question about the damage done by a short, one-sided discussion of vigorously debated aspects of Middle East politics, like the survival of Israel and the rights of the Palestinians, and which side was more callous toward human life, and who was most protective of it.
But Mr. Wiesenfeld interrupted and said the question was offensive because “the comparison sets up a moral equivalence.”
Equivalence between what and what? “Between the Palestinians and Israelis,” he said. “People who worship death for their children are not human.”

Did he mean the Palestinians were not human? “They have developed a culture which is unprecedented in human history,” he said.

But is there no reason to hear from Tony Kushner, or have a more thorough airing of his views? “Tell you what,” Mr. Wiesenfeld said. “Your question tells me — and I am saying this not to insult you — tells me that you don’t know” what you are talking about.

Two years ago, John Jay gave a medal to Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and human rights commissioner with the United Nations. Many who see the world as Mr. Wiesenfeld does also revile Ms. Robinson for having presided over a conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, at which a number of delegates were unabashedly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.

Mr. Wiesenfeld said he had confronted Jeremy Travis, the president of John Jay. “I said, ‘Jeremy, this is crazy. Mary Robinson? The woman who oversaw this disgrace that the United States pulled out of. You can’t have a tin ear.’ He said, ‘Well, many people see it differently,’ ” Mr. Wiesenfeld said. Mr. Travis could not be reached on Thursday, his office said.

(During the Durban conference, The Jerusalem Post reported that Ms. Robinson had spoken out at a major dinner when she was presented with a book of anti-Semitic cartoons. “When I see the racism in this cartoon booklet, of the Arab Lawyers’ Union, I must say that I am a Jew — for those victims are hurting,” Ms. Robinson was quoted as saying. “I know that you people will not understand easily, but you are my friends, so I tell you that I am a Jew, and I will not accept this fractiousness to torpedo the conference.”)

Background on James Dwyer, NY Times columnist and  author of several books:
Jim Dwyer began writing the About New York column in April 2007. He has spent most of his professional life covering New York as a reporter, columnist and author. He joined the Times in May 2001 after stints at the Daily News, New York Newsday and several papers in northern New Jersey.
Born and raised in the city, Jim is the son of Irish immigrants. For the last 30 years, he has lived in Washington Heights with his family.

His latest book, 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, co-written with Kevin Flynn, an editor at The New York Times Company, was a 2005 National Book Award finalist.[4] The book chronicled the 102 minutes that the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood after the attacks of September 11, 2001 began. The sources included interviews with survivors, tapes of police and fire operations, 911 calls, and other material obtained under freedom of information requests including 20,000 pages of tape transcripts, oral histories, and other documents.

Actual Innocence and Two Seconds Under the World
Dwyer is also the co-author of Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted, which examined the causes of wrongful convictions.

He is co-author of Two Seconds Under the World, an account of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center that explored the early signs of fundamentalist terrorism, and poor coordination by investigating agencies, including the FBI.

Subway Lives
He is the author of Subway Lives: 24 Hours in the Life of the New York Subways, a work that follows the lives of six New Yorkers and is set on the day the last graffiti-covered train was in service. came from his job as the subway columnist from 1986 to 1989 for New York Newsday.