K.C. Johnson endorses the idea that people should be denied honorary disagrees if their political opinions about Israel are inconsistent with K.C. Johnson’s. This is apparently true even if the honoree’s views about Israel had nothing to do with his being honored. So he doesn’t actually think “political correctness” is a problem so long as the politics are right — good to know. Nor does he seem to have any problem with instructors being fired for (the right) ideological reasons. (You want to create a rule that you have to have a PhD to teach in a terminal master’s program at CUNY, fine — but you can’t selectively and retroactively apply a made-up rule for political reasons.) I hope Johnson will provide people who want to be considered for honorary degrees with a list of countries that are to be exempt from criticism so they can remain eligible. Can someone say that Andrew Jackson was guilty of ethnic cleansing?* Do they have to lie about it if asked? Or is it OK to tell the truth in that case because Jackson was a Democrat? It’s all very confusing.**
And, of course, Johnson’s paean to the valiant standing-up-to-extremists work of Jeffrey Weisenfeld has become dark comedy given Weisenfeld’s subsequent comments. Why, if not for Weisenfeld’s crude political litmus tests, CUNY might give an honorary degree to someone who believes in collective guilt and describes cultural groups as “not human”!
*I should perhaps note here that I lack the knowledge that would allow me to say whether I definitely agree or disagree with Kushner’s arguments about ethnic cleansing which so upset Weisenfeld. What I do know is that to say that Kushner’s argument is so beyond the pale as to permit the inference that he’s anti-Semitic or eliminationist is utterly absurd. Are we supposed to believe that Benny Morris is an anti-Israel extremist? Does Jeffrey Goldberg noting that “[t]here were instances in which Arab villages in what is now Israel were forcibly cleared of their inhabitants by Israeli forces” make him an extremist? And I certainly can say that Weisenfeld’s apparent belief that when it comes to certain favored countries we must be guided by moral relativism and refuse to even ask potentially embarrassing questions is the definition of anti-intellectualism.
**It’s also worth noting here the reasons reportedly cited by Wiesenfeld: “Mr. Kushner had tied the founding of Israel to a policy of ethnic cleansing, criticized the Israel Defense Forces and supported a boycott of Israel.” The first point is discussed above. On the second point, also see above, plus you’ve got to be kidding — believing that a country’s armed forces must be entirely above reproach is a condition of getting an honorary degree now? And the third point is, as far as I can tell, a wholly false description of Kushner’s views, leaving aside the question of whether supporting a boycott of Israel (a view I consider foolish) should disqualify someone from receiving an honorary award for his or her artistic work.