Playwright Tony Kushner has responded to questions about his many extreme comments regarding Israel with an outlandish claim in the New York Sun (April 25, 2006) that his “past statements have been taken out of context by groups using ‘McCarthyite’ tactics to portray him as an extremist.”
An additional statement by Kushner about Israel from an interview in 1994 confirms how longstanding have been his attitudes. Tony Kushner in Conversation, an edited collection of interviews with the writer published by the University of Michigan Press (1998) includes an exchange with Bruce McLeod that appeared in the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies. The following passages appear there:
Kushner: Yeah. I feel that I’m very much a product of what I consider the most important tradition – I’m not a religious Jew and I think the Diasporan Jewish culture has a magnificent history of progressive involvement with the cultures that Jews have found themselves in and interacting with. It’s very much a part of who I am. So yes.
It’s a very distressing thing to me that American Jews have lost contact with the traditions of socialism and humanism – I don’t consider myself a humanist but I probably am – but there are important progressive and radical European traditions that arrived with Jews in the U.S. from Germany to Russia that really informed American Jewish consciousness all the way up to the 1950’s, and Roy [Cohn’s] generation is really the generation that succeeded in beginning the severance of that. It still continued in a very lively way which manifested itself most obviously in Jewish support for the Civil Rights movement, but at the same time that that was happening there was this tremendous support for Israel and that’s been part of this calamity– it’s driven international Jewish culture from its progressive base. I don’t know what’s to be done about it, what recourse progressive Jews have to call…I’m sort of floundering for words because I don’t know what to call us at this point. I mean we’re not a religion, it makes everyone uneasy to think of us a race, including Jews, it’s very odd; we’ve wound up being the oddest phenomenon in modern history.”
Jerusalem is…it’s very, very hard. It’s hard every Passover. Jews all over the world for the last 2,000 years say: next year in Jerusalem, and that’s both literal and nonliteral. A lot of progressives get rid of it because of the obvious Zionist, imperialist implications of it. It’s tremendously complicated– I really believe that the Israel lobby has pulled American Jews into bed with some really awful people is undeniably the case. The biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community and Israel itself has got this disgraceful record … but anti-Semitism is alive and well and Jews do occupy a very precarious position in the world. For all the wealth and cultural clout that they have accumulated in this country I still believe that we are a definable target and as such … I don’t know what I’m trying to say except that I feel incapable of unambivalently rejecting a Jewish yearning for a homeland, although I can unambivalently say that I think that it’s a terrible historical problem that modern Israel came into existence.
When I was in Israel and you go to the Holocaust Museum – you were talking about public spaces earlier – the entire museum is very subtly on a ramp that leads you through the whole history of anti-Semitism and Jewish persecution, and it leads you up this ramp without you noticing that you are going uphill until you’ve gone up five stories and you are on this balcony overlooking modern Jerusalem: this is sort of the end point, the logical conclusion, this is what all that suffering was for, so that we could be – of course not looking toward East Jerusalem – the occupiers of this land again. And that’s appalling, and you can look at that and go, ‘Oh for God’s sake,’ and no matter how moved you are by some of the things in Yad Vashem you feel sort of sick at it. But then I went to the Wailing Wall and it is astonishing, you can’t not feel as a Jew tremendously moved by a Jewish presence at the Wall. And above the Wall on the Temple Square is a six-branch menorah, each light representing one of the six million that died in the Holocaust, and more than anything else that I saw, the presence of that menorah made it feel like — that was the refutation of the success of the European attempt at genocide. But that sounds horrible too! Most Palestinians would probably hate me for saying that. The progressive Israelis that I met would describe a vision of what Israel ought to be and it sounded exactly like the position the Jews occupied in the ghettoes in Europe in the Middle Ages – a kind of buffer zone, a sort of financial hub – we’ll handle the money between the Arab world and the West. Well, if that didn’t work in the Middle Ages it isn’t going to work here. And they don’t need that buffer zone now, nobody wants it, it’s all in computers and it will happen in nanoseconds– it’s a fantasy and it’s a fantasy of ultimate powerlessness because Israel is a creation of the U.S., bought and paid for. There are lots of beautiful little orange groves and olive groves which the Palestinians had before the Jews were there, and some very attractive European-looking cities, but there’s no real country there. I don’t know.