Brandeis University was founded as a Jewish University in 1948, the same year as the state of Israel. The impulse behind both “foundings” was similar, and the man for whom the university is named, Justice Brandeis, was a strong Zionist.
Today, though, Brandeis seems to be going off its rails. When we visited the university last summer, I must have heard the term “social justice” thrown around perhaps half a dozen times in an hour. To support the claim that Brandeis stands for social justice, the admissions officer who conducted the information session touted as distinguished graduates Angela Davis, an accomplice to murder, and Abbie Hoffman, in his prime a decent showman and comic but also a criminal and a third rate thinker.
Brandeis also appears to be moving in an anti-Israeli direction. First, it hired Palestinian demographer Khalil Shakaki, who is hostile to Israel. To be sure, hiring an anti-Israeli is not the same thing as being anti-Israeli, and a case can be made for adding that point of view to the faculty mix even at Brandeis. However, there is substantial evidence that Shikaki has had ties to terrorists.
Now Brandeis has elected to give an honorary degree to Tony Kushner, the playwright who wrote the screenplay for the movie Munich. That’s the film that shows mass murdering terrorists as sympathetic “humane” heroes with whom the audience can identify. And, as the Autonomist reminds us, Kushner has said “I wish the modern Israel hadn’t been born.”
Again, I see nothing wrong with Brandeis inviting speakers who express this view. However, that’s not what it’s doing with Kushner. Instead, it is singling him out for honor. At a minimum, Brandeis seems (as one alumnus put it) to be going out of its way to deny its roots (it will also give an honorary degree to Jordanian prince El Hassan bi Talal).
With Israel as unpopular as it is among liberals and academics, perhaps this is a natural, assimilationist move. But it also strikes me as dishonorable and a betrayal.
UPDATE: Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz attempted to defend honoring Kushner on the theory that it is honoring the quality of Kushner’s plays, not his political views. However, Reinharz also said that the school is honoring Kushner in part because his work “addresses Brandeis’s commitment to social justice” (that phrase again). In a devastating response, Brandeis alum David Bernstein notes the contradiction and wonders whether the university believes Kushner’s anti-Israeli views promote social justice.