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Tony Kushner and the curious case of professor, and CiF columnist, Kristofer Petersen-Overton


This is cross posted by our friends at Simply Jews

Reading up on the facts behind (and around) the storm raised by The Guardian around the honorary degree refused and eventually granted to the anti-Israeli playwright Tony Kushner, I couldn’t miss an article by one Kristofer Petersen-Overton Tony Kushner and the corporatisation of CUNY. Aside of “corporatisation” being an ugly word, the article was of certain interest. The author is claiming essentially that there is “corporatisation and the adoption of a boardroom mentality in university administrations”. One aspect of this mentality, according to Mr Petersen-Overton is that “CUNY no longer has much time for those with views likely to upset the largesse of its donors”. That’s real bad. This means, in effect, that the issue of hiring progressively-minded teaching staff becomes secondary to political considerations, as is displayed only too clearly in Mr Petersen-Overton’s own case of dismissal from Brooklyn College, barely overturned at the last moment due to the fact that “a small but diverse and dedicated group of people helped mobilise responses and direct media attention”.

That’s real bad. Not only does CUNY allow all kinds of political considerations impact granting richly deserved honors to one of the leading American playwrights, it is denying work to a talented young historian, which act is based solely on his views of Israel. One’s blood starts to boil indeed, reading about all that depravity.

To dispose first of the leading American playwright’s case: his honorary degree aside, he is one of the selected group of AssaJews that have never hid too well their visceral hate of Israel. If you feel not too queasy, Adam Levick of CiF offers a sampler of Kushner’s soundbites. This sampler makes clear why Kushner became an instant darling of The Guardian. It’s also quite clear why his defender, Petersen-Overton, avoided mention of all that music.
Now to the Kristofer Petersen-Overton (KPO) himself. I have looked up some of his articles on the internet. His scientific objectivity comes through loud and clear in the his work Counting Heads: Israel’s Demographic Imperative. Apparently transfer is all Israel is about. His scientific way of collecting facts comes through clearly as well, when you browse through his other opus: Beyond the Threshold of Atrocity: Nationalism, Biopower & Israel’s Occupation of Gaza. Since this is work in progress, possibly scheduled to become KPO’s doctoral dissertation, I am prevented from quoting it. But like many other propagandist pieces on Gaza’s history, it carefully avoids talking about the period immediately after “disengagement”, when naive Zionists ex-occupants allowed thousands of Gazans to work in Israel, coordinated construction of an airport and planned for a sea port in Gaza – all this to be thwarted by the wave of violence that put an end to the attempt to build up good neighborhood relationships. And this work purports to become a dissertation of a scientist…

Should I linger on the KPO’s choice of references, such as Mearsheimer and Walt, Chomsky, Pappe, B’Tselem etc? Hardly…Should I linger on this quote from KPOs’ own bio that hardly qualifies him as a scientifically dispassionate observer:

Outside the academy, I worked for some time as a human rights activist in Gaza and the West Bank and I still maintain close contact with the Palestinian activist community.

Not worth a discussion, methinks. Still, if you want to read more about KPO’s political leanings and objectivity, here is a detailed piece by Bruce Kesler.

It is quite clear by now that KPO is neither personally nor scientifically objective and that his teaching will be rather an uninterrupted anti-Israeli propaganda rally. But what about his professional credentials: do they entitle him to become what is inevitably termed “professor” in Brooklyn College/CUNY? Dr. Robert David Johnson, a man with really impressive academic credentials, is of an unequivocal opinion

The hiring of former Brooklyn College adjunct Kristofer Petersen-Overton was quite extraordinary. Even though New York’s fiscal problems have led to a slashing of the adjunct budget for required, undergraduate Core classes, Brooklyn’s Political Science Department chose to assign an adjunct to teach a Masters’-level elective course, on Middle Eastern politics. And then, even though graduate-level classes in the humanities and social sciences are almost always taught by full-time faculty, the department inexplicably hired to teach the class a second -year Ph.D. student (at the CUNY Graduate Center, Ph.D. students generally take their oral exams in their third year, so the student almost certainly hadn’t even completed his required coursework).

It’s hard to escape the likelihood that a department known for its close ties to the anti-Israel leadership of the CUNY faculty union hired Petersen-Overton because of his extremist views on Israel-related matters (he has, for instance, accused Israel of “colonial genocide,” and his website boasts of his close ties to “activists” in the West Bank and Gaza). Petersen-Overton certainly wasn’t assigned to teach an M.A. course because he possessed the educational credentials to do so.

This certainly puts the matter in an interesting perspective, doesn’t it?

I wouldn’t go on about the academic freedom in general, seeing as how academic freedom usually works only one way with the left wing members of academic circles. The readiness of hard boiled left wing professors to accept the freedom of otherwise-minded people to express their opinion is rather a boring subject.

As for our main protagonist, KPO: I have stumbled on something that is indeed a crowning achievement in KPO’s fight for freedom of speech: his interview to Iranian Press TV:

QED as they say in the scientific circles. After all, who is better qualified to support a valiant fighter for academic freedom than Iran? Well, maybe Fidel Castro or…nah, let’s leave it alone.

I guess the next rally for Kristofer Petersen-Overton’s freedom of speech will be held in Tehran then.

10 replies »

  1. There is a very simple issue here. Political views should have no bearing on academic tenure unless they are expressed in ways that are illegal in themselves. Examples would be calls for discrimination or abuse on racial grounds, or support for illegal violence. The overwhelming evidence is that it is sufficient to oppose the policies of the current Israeli government or to criticise the historic policies of Zionists/Israeli governments in order to attract academic censure from Zionist groups. A very good example is that of Norman Finkelstein and his denial of tenure by DePaul University. I know Finkelstein is a hate figure for many on this site but his political views are legal and his academic qualifications are substantial. Read anything he writes and, disagree as you may, I would challenge you to criticise his academic rigour.

    • “Read anything he writes and, disagree as you may, I would challenge you to criticise his academic rigour.” sencar

      Plenty of other people already did that and have shown him for what he is,
      a self-obsessed fraud.

      Given your consistent monomanic anti-zionist bias I am not at all surprised you defend cranks such as Finkelstein. Which shows once more that, despite your attempt to portray yourself as “truth/logic” seeker, you have no credentials nor authority to lecture on Israel. All you want is indulge in your anti-Israel obsession while posing as a bona-fide critic. You fool nobody.

  2. I am sure I have enjoyed Kushner’s films as much as anyone. But it is curious the way the Guardian ascribes almost Shakespearean status to any anti-Israeli cultural or media figure, and immediately slaps the “McCarthyism” label on actions taken against that person. What they keep dodging regarding Kushner is why someone who’s views on Israel are essentially hate speech, should be awarded an honor.

    Specially since, if there is a similar person expressing pro-Israeli views, or being boycotted (or even if the entire country is to be boycotted), somehow in the Guardian’s la-la land that is not discriminatory, nor McCarthyitism, and the person concerned is considered to be barely literate buy the Guardian’s cognoscenti of culture.

  3. SerJew

    Would you care to make one serious point against Finkelstein. Your blanket condemnation simply lacks credibility.

  4. “Would you care to make one serious point against Finkelstein. Your blanket condemnation simply lacks credibility.” prof sencar

    And I don´t claim credibility for that. As with anybody else in this blog, this is just and only an *opinion*, in the case, *my* opinion based, like with 99,99% of people, on *second-hand* criticism by specialists such as Benny Morris. I am no expert on Finkelstein nor do I want/need to read his crap.

    Now, it´s up to you, self-appointed “truth/logic” seeker, to debunk Benny Morris and many others that already demolished that fraudster.

    And, BTW, having scholarly degrees doesn´t make one a scholar. Many members of the Einsaztgruppen were university graduates, some with two doctorates from prestigious German universities.

  5. All this concern from Guardian contributors many whom support BDS including academics who happen to reside in Israel no matter what their political leanings. The shoe is always too tight when it is on the other foot….toooo bad ….. I suggest all the UK posters who are outraged start with their own institutions….how about LSE? unlike open admissions CUNY system with remedial reading classes….

  6. “A very good example is that of Norman Finkelstein and his denial of tenure by DePaul University. I know Finkelstein is a hate figure for many on this site but his political views are legal and his academic qualifications are substantial.”

    Finkelstein was denied tenure for academic dishonesty. Unlike politicians, celebrities, actors, etc…whose careers can be burned overnight. Academics are typically immune, and they can say or write the most outrageous things and get away with it as they sit in their ivory tower.

    Finkelstein’s denial of tenure was a major blow to the Arab movement and Islamic states who are bent on rewriting Middle East history.

    Finkelstein is eager to cash in on the child-like mentality of the Muslim world, and he will see some of his biggest fans are residents of Muslim states.

    His status as a Jew somehow makes non-Jews believe he is incapable of promoting antisemitism. This of course is a blatant fallacy and your ethnic/religion has no weight on what you say.

    Academically speaking, Finkelstein is very unimpressive. He is loud, full of rhetoric, highly partisan, and seems to accept the Arab and Palestinian narrative unchallenged.

    And while many Israelis and moderates are censored and not given a voice -like the New York Times refusing to print Goldstone’s editorial disowning his report (though they published his first editorial supporting it LOL), Finkelsein and his gang of thugs are worshiped at Der guardian and Al Jazeera.

    Al Jazeera had a nice picture of him on their front page website for more than two weeks – “American radical” they described him.

    By virture of simply being so out of the mainstream and debased from reality, it is seen as some accomplishment. A badge of honor.

  7. “The overwhelming evidence is that it is sufficient to oppose the policies of the current Israeli government or to criticise the historic policies of Zionists/Israeli governments in order to attract academic censure from Zionist groups. ”

    Somehow I’m not overwhelmed, sencar. To me, it sounds like a typical propaganda statement not supported by anything. As for Fink-elstein’s departure from DePaul University: take a shufti:

    http://simplyjews.blogspot.com/2007/06/now-for-some-carefully-expressed-glee.html

    If this looks like persecution of a brilliant scientist, you are a brilliant scientist too…

    Generally, there is a bit of a problem (let’s call it cognitive dissonance to make it sound important) with proliferation of anti-Israeli publications by various US academics on one hand and the accompanying wail about being muzzled.

    What say?

  8. P.S. Abban Aziz: re that picture of Fink… on Al Jazeera, it was actually a so called “documentary movie about the valiant academic freedom fighter.

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