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.
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?