The not so curious or unusual case of Tony Kushner

A leading Jew is blocked from receiving an honorary degree at City University of New York because he’s critical of Israel (and dares challenge the Jewish state’s occupation policies in strong ways, which is more than most liberal Zionists do). Although the decision has been reversed and Kushner has got his piece of paper, the whole episode is instructive of what’s happening to public opinion in the US over the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Here’s Kushner on Democracy Now! this week:

I think that a policy in the Middle East in this country, based on right-wing fantasies and theocratic fantasies and scripture-based fantasies of what history and on-the-ground reality is telling us, is catastrophic and is going to lead to the destruction of the state of Israel. These people are not defending it. They’re not supporting it. They’re in fact, I think, causing a distortion of U.S. policy regarding Israel and a distortion of the internal politics of Israel itself, because they exert a tremendous influence in Israel and support right-wing politicians who I think have led the country into a very dark and dangerous place. And, you know, I think, at the moment, Israel has many, many more serious problems than me. And I think that if people like Jeffrey Wiesenfeld were really concerned about the continued existence of Israel, they should take a look at what has happened in the past, going all the way back to ’47 and ’48, and what actually happened when the state of Israel was founded, and to try and understand the reality that the country faces now and to, you know, understand the realities that the Palestinian people face, because it’s impossible to shape a legitimate and successful path towards peace based on rhetoric and demagoguery and fantasy.

Leading BDS proponent Omar Barghouti, who is clearly anti-Zionist, writes that Israel increasingly finds itself having to defend racist policies and the Zionist Diaspora is caught in a delicious bind:

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League repeats the mantra that by advocating comprehensive Palestinian rights, including full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and the UN-sanctioned right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes from which they were forcibly displaced, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is “de-legitimizing” Israel and threatening its very “existence.” This claim is frequently made by Israel lobby groups in an obvious attempt to muddy the waters and to push beyond the pale of legitimate debate the mere statement of facts about and analysis of Israel’s occupation, denial of refugee rights, and institutionalized system of racial discrimination, which basically fits the UN definition of apartheid.

Specifically, what is often objected to is the demand for full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel. One can only wonder, if equality ends Israel’s “existence,” what does that say about Israel? Did equality destroy South Africa? Did it “delegitimize” whites in the Southern states of the U.S. after segregation was outlawed? The only thing that equality, human rights and justice really destroy is a system of injustice, inequality and racial discrimination.

The “delegitimization” scare tactic, widely promoted by Israel’s well-oiled pressure groups, has not impressed many in the West, in fact, particularly since its most far-reaching claim against BDS is that the movement aims to “supersede the Zionist model with a state that is based on the ‘one person, one vote’ principle” — hardly the most evil or disquieting accusation for anyone even vaguely interested in democracy, a just peace, and equal rights.

Having largely lost the battle for hearts and minds at the grassroots level in several key European and other states, and due to a significant rise in negative ratings of Israel in the U.S. public, Israel’s lobby groups in the United States are desperately trying to safeguard Israel’s impunity. Cognizant of the circumstances and dynamics that marked the final stages in the struggle against South African apartheid, Israel is only too well aware of the dire consequences of its militarist, unjust, and patently discriminatory policies being exposed to the U.S. public, its last bastion of popular support around the world. Without challenging Israel’s exceptionalism, however, the prospects for comprehensive and sustainable peace based on justice will remain dim.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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