The strange case of Stephen Hawking and the academic boycott of Israel that wasn’t. Or was it?

Prof. Stephen Hawking, boycotter of Israel

A few weeks ago I wrote in a Good News Friday post how honoured we were to have renowned British physicist Professor Stephen Hawking come to visit Israel. So you can imagine our disappointment and our anger at learning that he had aborted his planned visit because he had been persuaded by the pro-Palestinian BDS brigade to boycott Israel.

We then experienced a Purim-like “venahafoch hu” when we were informed that indeed Hawking was not going to visit Israel, but that it was due to his exceedingly ill health and not connected to any boycott. In other words the BDS brigade simply hijacked his abandoned visit for their own nefarious causes.

CifWatch and BBC Watch have been all over this fiasco, as has The Commentator, as they write:

The Guardian, which broke the story late last night, claimed that Hawking was due to boycott Israel after receiving an erroneous statement from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), apparently with Hawking’s approval.

The statement said that the move was “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”.

However, a Cambridge university spokesperson has confirmed to The Commentator that there was a “misunderstanding” this past weekend, and that Prof. Hawking had pulled out of the conference for medical reasons.

Responding to an e-mail including an open letter to Prof. Hawking, shared nearly 2000 times, a University spokesman said: “Professor Hawking will not be attending the conference in Israel in June for health reasons – his doctors have advised against him flying.”

When asked for further information, the spokesperson confirmed that the BRICUP organisation had “assumed” Hawking’s position on the matter, and that it was fundamentally untrue.

But the story is not yet over. The latest twist in the tale is that Professor Hawking is indeed boycotting Israel.  I wish he would make his mind up. From the link above:

[...] Acting Director of Communications at Cambridge and Hawking’s spokesperson, Holt recently informed us via an email of the following new statement just released by the University:

“We have now received confirmation from Professor Hawking’s office that a letter was sent on Friday to the Israeli President’s office regarding his decision not to attend the Presidential Conference, based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott.

“We had understood previously that his decision was based purely on health grounds having been advised by doctors not to fly.”

Raheem Kassam at The Commentator had penned an open letter to Stephen Hawking following the original boycott announcement. It seemed the news had overtaken its publishing, but it is now evidently relevant again. Here are some excerpts but read it all:

Dear Professor Hawking,

I am writing to you today to express the deepest dismay that struck me when moments ago, I read that you were the latest casualty of group-think and misinformation.

Your decision to boycott Israel I’m sure is one that you believe to be correct, given the statement put out on your behalf, due to the “advice of [your] own academic contacts” in the region.

I must let you know that as someone whose upbringing was steeped in the dogma of groupthink and mysticism, it was in part your work that made me realise what more there was in life. What questions the universe raised, why we should be skeptical of over-simplified and lazy explanations, and importantly, to never stop asking these questions.

Your approach to rationality, as well as that of your contemporaries, has opened up new doors for millions of people. The way we think, the way we act, the way we go about our lives, have all been impacted by the work you have dedicated your life to.

Sadly, however, I now believe that you are the latest in a line of celebrities, academics and politicians who are being misled by the closed-minded, closed-shop style of debate that I know you to have rejected over the majority of your life.

You see, you taught people to question things – but your involvement with the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine reflects that you have either abdicated your commitment to the scientific method, or you simply have abdicated your sense of morality.

I cannot fathom why, if neither of these were true, you would be involved with an organisation which has a director who presided over an entire nation of historically persecuted people being wiped off a map [PDF].

I cannot understand why your pivotal, inner question on the matter seems to have been, “Should I boycott?” rather than, “Why should I boycott?

The answer to both questions of course is easily answered, but it depends on how far beneath the surface you are willing to scratch in order to obtain any semblance of truth on the matter. You could take my word for it, or you could take the words of Al Quds University and the Hebrew University, one Palestinian, and one Israeli organisation in agreement:

“Our position is based upon the belief that it is through cooperation based on mutual respect, rather than through boycotts or discrimination, that our common goals can be achieved. Bridging political gulfs – rather than widening them further apart –between nations and individuals thus becomes an educational duty as well as a functional necessity, requiring exchange and dialogue rather than confrontation and antagonism”

[...]

I fear that in failing to uphold your commitments to the Facing Tomorrow conference in Israel, you are abandoning reason, and operating solely on the basis of misplaced passions, and romantic notions of solidarity with anti-Israel campaigners. I believe this to be an abandonment of the very basis upon which academia and science is founded.

[...]

If you want to make a point about your views on the conflict in the Middle East, there could be no better platform than within the region itself. As it stands, you have simply aligned yourself with a fringe, anti-peace lobby that is concerned primarily with the demonisation of an entire people, and which is devoid of constructive ideas with which to move forward.

If your health allows, I urge you to reconsider your decision.

Read the whole article.  Raheem Kassam expresses beautifully (and much too politely in my opinion) how wrong Hawking’s decision is.

The President’s Conference organizers, who were going to host Prof Hawking, called the boycott decision outrageous:

World-renowned theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking has joined the academic boycott of Israel and will not be attending the fifth annual Presidential Conference in Jerusalem in June, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

Hawking, 71, emeritus Lucasian professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had agreed to headline the conference, titled “Facing Tomorrow,” alongside other major international personalities. His decision to pull out of the conference marks a public relations victory in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli academic institutions.

Hawking informed President Shimon Peres that he would be withdrawing from the conference last week. Although he had not announced his decision publicly, a statement by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, which was published with Hawking’s approval, described the move as “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.”

According to the report, Hawking told friends he pulled out of the conference “on the advice of Palestinian colleagues who unanimously agreed that he should not attend.”

[...]

“This is an outrageous, wrongful decision,” Presidential Conference Steering Committee Chairman Israel Maimon said Wednesday. “The academic boycott of Israel is outrageous, especially by someone who preaches freedom of thought. Israel is a democracy, where anyone can state his case, whatever it may be. Imposing a boycott goes against the principles of holding an open and democratic discourse.”

Maimon said that over 5,000 people are expected to participate in the conference, which this year will celebrate Peres’ 90th birthday, including dozens of international speakers, leading businesspeople, academicians, and several Nobel Prize laureates. Several heads of state, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev and Prince Albert of Monaco, will also attend, as will famed singer Barbra Streisand and other leading performers. A leading Palestinian Authority figure is also set to speak at the conference.

The Wolf Foundation, which in 1988 awarded Hawking the Wolf Prize in physics, issued a statement saying, “We were sad to learn that someone of Professor Hawking’s standing chose to capitulate to irrelevant pressures and will refrain from visiting Israel.”

I wonder if Hawking is really in possession of all his mental faculties. He may be a brilliant scientist and may still be able to deliver important speeches, but under the ravages of his illness, is he capable of understanding the political machinations of pseudo-friends like the BSD brigade? Has he been led astray by ill-meaning antisemitic colleagues? Or does he truly feel that Israel alone, and especially Israeli academics, deserve to be boycotted, out of all the academics and all the countries in the world?

In which case he should give back or stop using any of the many Israeli medical inventions that are helping him, like the Israeli-invented voice generator which he has made famous. Otherwise we could simply call him a bigoted old hypocrite, couldn’t we?

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15 Responses to The strange case of Stephen Hawking and the academic boycott of Israel that wasn’t. Or was it?

  1. Debby says:

    Anne, Stephen Hawking is an avowed evolutionist and atheist. Why would anyone think he’d be a friend of Israel? He is directly opposed to anything your heritage stands for.

    Has there been much study in your country of the effects of evolutionary teaching on justifying the Holocaust? Hitler was a huge evolutionist and I’m sure would have been a great fan of Stephen Hawking.

    This is so confusing to me. I can’t even reconcile this in my mind.

    • anneinpt says:

      Debby, I’m just going to give a half answer for now because it’s way past my bedtime. I’ll leave the evolution stuff out for the moment.

      This decision of Hawking is purely political. I’m convinced it’s nothing to do with atheism or religion. Until now, Hawking was considered a friend of Israel and has visited here at least four times in the past. So what suddenly changed? The country is still Jewish and he is still an atheist. The only difference is that the boycotters have become much more vocal and more influential due to their spread in academia and their support from the media and the human rights extremists (i.e. human rights for everyone except the West and Israel).

      It’s confusing for all of us. This has come right out of left field for us.

  2. Adam says:

    Apparently Hawking has been attacking Israel for a number of years, and said that the Iraq war was a war crime along with other hackneyed left wing tropes.

    It’s just part of the sickness which infests the intelligentsia in the West. The irony is that Israel will still be standing once the rest of the West has completed its current journey of committing suicide in stages. Israel still has a moral compass – people like Hawking lost theirs long ago.

    • anneinpt says:

      Adam, sorry to be so late with my reply. Thank you for your input. That certainly sheds more light on Hawking’s decision. I hadn’t been aware of his leftist tendencies, and I wonder how many other Israelis were unaware of this.

  3. Earl says:

    I was aghast when I read Hawking was part of this Judenhass-inspired BDS- he’s a scientist, and should be immune to such lunacy. But, the best comment come’s from “clivel” at Canada’s National Post:

    Now if only Hawking’s would have the courage of his convictions to do a proper job of boycotting Israel.
    For a start he could dispense with the Israeli designed Intel i7 processor
    used in his communicator, then he could clear out his medicine cabinet
    to ensure that his life sustaining medical regime contains none of those
    evil Zionist developed drugs, and he definitely needs to avoid the
    breakthrough Israeli developed treatment for ALS

    /I retract the above unreservedly if Hawking confirms his health, rather than BDS madness, caused his cancellation.

  4. DavidinPT says:

    Bottom line is that he is a bigoted old hypocrite. Does Israel posess a self-destruct button for his medical equipment? I do hope so? I don’t want him dead, just silenced. Moron!

  5. Reality says:

    doen’t he realise that probably most of his life saving medical equipment comes from that terrible scourge called Israel? If he’s so pro Palestinian let them provide him with medical care – what’s that I hear? Oh, they don’t know how to build stuff like that? only bombs? OK then, bombs away Mr Hawkins!

    Raheem’s letter is amazing – how come all these supposedly intelligent people are so scared off? What do they think will actually happen if they come here? I went to a lecture this week that presented documentation that as soon as the State of Israel was set up one of the founding principles was to become as technologically strong as possible in order to gain the worlds respect & to be independant. Nobody seems to question why the Palestinians haven’t done this-or why they only whine & say that they are poor oppressed people, which all these free thinking elitists buy into. Trully pathetic. It’s time that we fine heavily these speakers who back out in the last minute. ie You are invited to speak but if you change your mind after a certain date (when everyone has bought tickets etc to attend) you or your company will have to forfit a HUGE sum of money -perhaps this they will understand-a contract would be drawn up & they’d be sued for the losses .

    • anneinpt says:

      I don’t think the intelligentsia are scared off. On the contrary, they are inordinately proud of themselves and their progressive attitude. They know very well what they’ll discover if htey visit here, and that’s why they don’t come. They don’t want their convictions challenged with facts.

      As for the Palestinians, you have to understand that for the progressives, the whites are always bad and the brown people are always good, the downtrodden victims. And Jews are considered white by the progressives. Which is funny because in the old anti-semitism, Jews were considered brown or dirty.

      Your idea of fining the boycotters is very good but I think it’s impractical for the State to do it. Certainly organizers and promoters of conferences or concerts can sue for damages and compensation and I think they may have done in the past. The trouble arises not with those who boycott from the start – besides the fact that they are bigoted antisemites of course – but with those who say they will come and then are pressurised to change their mind. That’s where the financial damage occurs to the organizers.

      But then we’ll be portrayed as money-grubbing Jews. We can’t win. Antisemitism will always be with us in some guise or another.

    • anneinpt says:

      Elder of Ziyon has an excellent article about your exact question: why do human rights organizations ignore Arab antisemitism?”.

      Really worth a read.

  6. Pingback: Israel: A Global Innovator – Technologically and Civilly | In Focus

  7. bernard says:

    The baboons on the left here are dangling from the bars of their cages with glee, one hand under their scrotums, the other patting themselves frantically on the head, with the news that this old fraud has allowed himself to be intimidated.

    The left need to be asked this. Why no cultural boycott of the Palestinians?

    If, let’s say Ireland, elected a government that swore to a charter which called for the complete destruction of a neighbouring state – a charter which also embraced the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery and the favourite bedtime reading of Adolf Hitler – and called for women to be threated as third class citizens while said political party also called for homosexuals to be publicly executed, Ireland would quite righty be condemned internationally.

    So why do the left entertain Palestinians when they freely endorse one of the most regressive regimes on the planet, while calling for a cultural boycott of Israel, the only liberal democracy in a region which is being torn apart by Islamic fundamentalism.

    Meantime, I “notice” that nearly one million Arabs are constantly trying to “flee” back across the border into Gaza and the 5th century – the same way that west Berliners were clamouring over the Wall to get into east Berlin in the not so distant past. Yeah, right.

    • anneinpt says:

      The left need to be asked this. Why no cultural boycott of the Palestinians?
      The unserious answer would be “there is a boycott. After all, I don’t see leftists rushing to put on suicide bomb belts”.

      The serious answer would be “what Palestinian culture is there to boycott?” – besides bomb belts of course.

      Why do the left support such a backward and uncivilized culture? Because they oppose the Jews. It really is as simple as that.

      Meantime, I “notice” that nearly one million Arabs are constantly trying to “flee” back across the border into Gaza and the 5th century

      But there are many thousands of Palestinians who have voted to keep their territory under Israeli control, no matter how much they protest publicly that they hate the Zionist regime. When push comes to shove, they know which side their bread is buttered. But again, you don’t read about it in the international media because it doesn’t fit The Narrative™.

  8. Reality says:

    I read yeaterday that we are STILL begging Hawkins to change hsi mind! Why / Have we no pride? If he does change his mind we just have to say no thanks we got someone better.

  9. Debby says:

    “This decision of Hawking is purely political. I’m convinced it’s nothing to do with atheism or religion. Until now, Hawking was considered a friend of Israel and has visited here at least four times in the past. So what suddenly changed? The country is still Jewish and he is still an atheist. The only difference is that the boycotters have become much more vocal and more influential due to their spread in academia and their support from the media and the human rights extremists (i.e. human rights for everyone except the West and Israel).”

    Anne, I would have to disagree with you on this point. Why does anyone pick on Israel?
    Is it not God Himself that set you apart as a nation? I’m serious on this point. I have a Danish/English/Scandinavian/Irish heritage (with a few spatterings of German/French). I like my heritage. So what makes your heritage so different than mine or any other and therefore your country such a very special target? Why does it seem that everyone knows that there is something special about a Jewish heritage? One might think it’s because of the notoriety of the Holocaust, however we all know anti-semitism was apparent long before the Holocaust. Your people have always been “marked” as different among cultures.

    Stephen Hawking is an atheist. He rejects God. Your whole identity (your whole culture) is built upon a God who reveals Himself as the Creator (the master designer) of this world and the One who set your nation apart for Him. Whether Jews like it or not (and I shouldn’t have the appearance of having MORE faith in Word of God, than those whose culture it came from!), He has chosen to make certain promises to you as a nation. Not Ireland, not Denmark, not America, not Germany…. You.

    So, why should a nation such as yourselves cry over someone like Stephen Hawking? While Stephen Hawking is a scientist, he is also an atheist. His religion of atheism drives his science, and it really is not the other way around. That is why anti-semitism will drive his behavior over science. That’s why his hatred of you culturally will over-ride his respect for you scientifically.

    Jews are not the only special target. Have you noticed that Christians are targeted as well? Since Christianity is borne out of Judaism, that really isn’t such a surprise in my eyes.

    There was an article last week in the Wall Street Journal, and Michael Weinstein apparently is targeting Christians/Catholics, equating us with Islamic terrorists. Why do you suppose he would do that? He states that it’s from his years at the Air Force Academy, where he (and later his sons) were the subject of intense anti-semitism. I attended the Air Force Academy. I was targeted by a few because I am a woman, but my experience with that did not cause me to become some man-hating fanatic. I was taught heavily in my pre-college school experience of the horrors of the Holocaust and anti-semitism, and I am pretty sure that had I encountered anti-semitism at the Academy, it would have left a lasting impression on me. I don’t say that it didn’t happen, as I hope nobody would say that I was not targeted as a woman, but it did not typify the Academy experience.

    Like I said before, I’m having difficulty wrapping my mind around this oxymoronic response. On one hand I see a significant showing of anguish over the rejection of someone who hates your God, and on the other hand I see a significant showing of cultural hatred toward those who respect the words of Moses and believe in the promises God has made to Israel through the prophets.

    My words are not intended to offend you or your readership, and I respect Israel as God’s people who He has chosen for His purposes. However, the Jewish culture often seems to be at odds with its own faith, and sometimes it appears to me to have such self-destructive consequences.

    • anneinpt says:

      Hi Debby, I’ll answer your comment point by point as much as I can but I don’t guarantee we’ll agree on everything!

      Why does anyone pick on Israel?
      Is it not God Himself that set you apart as a nation?

      Yes, of course that is the source of all antisemitism: the jealousy of Israel’s haters that God chose the Jews. But that jealousy and hatred mutates over time and takes different guises depending on the era, the surroundings, the politics etc. For example, early Christian antisemitism arose from the propaganda that the Jews had killed Jesus. Later on, the Jews were persecuted in the Inquisition for refusing to convert. The Muslims persecuted the Jews because they refused to accept Mohammed and Allah. In fact in the early years, Mohammed’s best friend was a Jew. Only when this Jewish friend rejected Mohammed did Mohammed and his followers turn against the Jews. They then constructed a Muslim antisemitism based on the fact that the Jews rejected Mohammed as a prophet. And then we move to the Middle Ages, on to the Holocaust etc.

      Nowadays, old-fashioned religion-based antisemitism is unfashionable in the wake of the Holocaust, so it has mutated into anti-Zionism, which has become the evil mirror-image of liberalism and human rights-ism (for the human rights industry is almost a religion or cult). On that basis I consider that Hawking is boycotting Israel – not because he is an atheist and doesn’t believe in God (although of course, if he believed in God he would have more affinity to Israel), but because he has been brainwashed into thinking that Israel commits that most evil of modern sins – human rights abuses. That this is a pack of lies only makes it worse.

      Jews are not the only special target. Have you noticed that Christians are targeted as well?

      Yes, definitely. It is a terrible problem in the Middle East, where the Christians are persecuted at least as much as the Jews, and I am sure Christians are targeted elsewhere. Again, I’m not sure how much this is based on godlessness per se, as much as on that new liberalism which sees everything as relative. There is no clear good and evil or black and white. Everything is relative, so competing “narratives” are given equal weight. And then we get the “human-rights-ism” religion as well.

      There was an article last week in the Wall Street Journal, and Michael Weinstein apparently is targeting Christians/Catholics, equating us with Islamic terrorists.

      I’m afraid I don’t know who Michael Weinstein is, but it sounds to me like he has some kind of psychological problem. I agree with you that he shouldn’t have let his own personal experience affect his attitude to the entire Christian world, and certainly not to go as far as comparing Christians with Islamists! That sounds extreme in the utmost. But I wouldn’t extrapolate from one Jewish victim of antisemitism who takes it out on Christians to the entire Jewish community. The fact that this Weinstein fellow has some kind of public forum is extremely unfortunate but he is most definitely not representative of the Jewish community.

      I’m having difficulty wrapping my mind around this oxymoronic response. On one hand I see a significant showing of anguish over the rejection of someone who hates your God, and on the other hand I see a significant showing of cultural hatred toward those who respect the words of Moses and believe in the promises God has made to Israel through the prophets.

      As a nation we are sometimes schizophrenic in our reactions to antisemitism. On the one hand we want those who hate us to love us, and that brings the shameful displays of grovelling to people such as Hawking, begging them to reconsider their bigoted boycotts.

      On the other hand we have been historically suspicious of those who profess to love us because over the centuries, particularly from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, converting the Jews was attempted as much through love as through persecution. This is a deep historical group memory that is very hard to shift, and even today, when there are so many groups of true Christian friends of Israel, and it is quite obvious that their intentions are sincere and do not show any attempts to convert us, there are still large pockets of suspicion and wariness.

      If you have encountered hatred or disrespect I am truly sorry. You can rest assured that Jewish attitudes towards Christianity are changing and have already changed dramatically over the last few years, and I’m sure this will continue into the future.

      However, the Jewish culture often seems to be at odds with its own faith, and sometimes it appears to me to have such self-destructive consequences.

      Welcome to the world of “2 Jews, 3 opinions”! :-).

      Seriously, you have made a very incisive point. Some of the worst antisemites are Jews, and some of the worst underminers of Israel’s cause are Jews. There must be a psychological explanation in there somewhere, perhaps an extreme case of Stockholm syndrome, and this is something we all need to deal with together.

      I hope I’ve managed to clarify some of your puzzlement for you.

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