So why did Stephen Hawking think it was ok to visit Iran and China?

May 09, 2013


* Even Ha’aretz leftists can’t stomach Hawking’s hypocrisy

* Hawking’s critics: If he really wants to boycott Israel, he should stop using the Israeli computer technology that allows him to communicate

* Among those few prominent British public figures defying the boycott call, novelist Ian McEwan said when he accepted an invitation to receive a literary prize in Israel: “If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed. It’s not great if everyone stops talking.”

* Video below: Then TV host Yair Lapid interviews Hawking on one of his previous visits to Israel


* You can comment on this dispatch here: Please also press “Like” on that page.



1. Hawking delivers anti-Israel campaigners a tsunami of worldwide publicity
2. “Stephen Hawking accused of hypocrisy over Israel conference boycott” (By Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian, May 9, 2013)
3. “Hypocrisy and double standard: An open letter to Stephen Hawking” (By Carlo Strenger, Ha’aretz, May 8, 2013)
4. “So why did Stephen Hawking think it was ok to visit Iran and China?” (By James Bloodworth, Left Foot Forward, May 9, 2013)


[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach three articles below – all from left-wing publications – concerning Professor Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott Israeli President Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday conference in Jerusalem next month. Hawking had previously agreed to be one of the keynote speakers.

Hawking’s decision has garnered massive international publicity for those campaigning to single out Israel from among all the nations of the world for boycott.

Today there are articles about Hawking’s decision in almost every major publication and TV network website in the world, from the Tehran Times to the Irish Times to the Huffington Post to Fox News to the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Russia Today and Toronto Star.

A torrent of anti-Semitic readers’ comments have appeared under many of the articles about Hawking, with particularly disgusting ones on the website of newspapers like the (London) Daily Express.

“This is an outrageous and wrong decision,” said Yisrael Maimon, the chairman of Jerusalem conference’s steering committee. “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.”

Several heads of state and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair are due to attend the Jerusalem conference, along with Barbra Streisand. There are 5,000 participants, including scholars, scientists, entrepreneurs, economists, industrialists and journalists (including myself) invited to the conference.

Hawking seems to have given in to the bullying and harassment that anti-Israel activists subjected him to in recent weeks. He has previously visited Israel several times.

For those interested, here is an interview Hawking did in 2006 while in Israel -- with Yair Lapid, then a TV host and now Israel’s Finance Minister, in which Hawking admits that “often what you read in the newspapers does not reflect the reality on the ground”.

Here is another short video of Hawking when he was in Israel in 2006.



Stephen Hawking accused of hypocrisy over Israel conference boycott
By Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Guardian
May 9, 2013

Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott an Israeli conference in protest at the state’s 46-year occupation of Palestine was derided as hypocritical by some, who pointed out that the celebrated scientist and author uses Israeli technology in the computer equipment that allows him to function.

Hawking, 71, has suffered from motor neurone disease for the past 50 years, and relies on a computer-based system to communicate.

According to Shurat HaDin, an Israel law centre which represents victims of terrorism, the equipment has been provided by an Israeli hi-tech firm, Intel, since 1997.

“Hawking’s decision to join the boycott of Israel is quite hypocritical for an individual who prides himself on his whole intellectual accomplishment. His whole computer-based communications system runs on a chip designed by Israel’s Intel team. I suggest if he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Shurat HaDin.

Intel could not be reached for comment, but their website quotes Justin Rattner, chief technology officer, as saying earlier this year: “We have a long-standing relationship with Professor Hawking.” He added: “We are very pleased to continue to … work closely with Professor Hawking on improving his personal communication system.”

Cambridge University declined to comment on allegations of hypocrisy regarding Hawking’s communications system.



Hypocrisy and double standard: An open letter to Stephen Hawking
By deciding not to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference, one of the world’s leading scientists is singling out Israel and denying it has been under existential threat for most of its existence.
By Carlo Strenger
May 8, 2013

There are many reasons why you are considered one of the world’s leading scientists. As you know very well, one reason for your achievement is the ability to keep a mind of your own and to refuse caving in to pressure by the mainstream. Innovation is only possible if you are immune to such pressure.

Given my respect for your achievement I am surprised and saddened by your decision, reported today by The Guardian that you have cancelled your participation at this year’s President’s Conference in Jerusalem, and that you have joined those who call for an academic boycott of Israel. I would have expected a man of your standing and achievement not to be influenced by the pressure that was reportedly exerted on you to cancel your visit in Israel.

Let it first be said that I have been opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories for many years, and that I have voiced this opposition with all means at my disposal. I think that Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank is indefensible morally, stupid politically and unwise strategically, and I will continue opposing it as long as I can.

This being said, I have always found it morally reprehensible and intellectually indefensible that many British academics have been calling for an academic boycott of Israel. This call is based on a moral double standard that I would not expect from a community whose mission it is to maintain intellectual integrity.

Yes, I think that Israel is guilty of human right violations in the West Bank. But these violations are negligible compared to those perpetrated by any number of states ranging from Iran through Russia to China, to mention only a small number of examples. Iran hangs hundreds of homosexuals every year; China has been occupying Tibet for decades, and you know of the terrible destruction Russia has inflicted in Chechnya. I have not heard from you or your colleagues who support an academic boycott against Israel that they boycott any of these countries.

But let me go one step further: Israel is accused of detaining Palestinians without trial for years. So is the USA, which, as you very well know, to this day has not closed Guantanamo Bay. Israel is accused of targeted killings of Palestinians suspected or known to be involved in terrorist acts. As is reported worldwide, the United States has been practicing targeted assassinations of terror suspects in many countries for years.

The question whether these detentions and targeted assassinations can be justified is weighty, and there are no simple answers. Personally I think that even in a war against terror democracies must make every conceivable effort to maintain the rule of law and avoid human rights violations.

Yet let us not forget that both Israel and the United States are in difficult situations. Israel was on the verge of a peace agreement with the Palestinian people when the second Intifada broke out. Daily Israelis were shredded into pieces by suicide bombings, and it is very difficult for Israeli politicians to convince Israelis to take risks for peace. The U.S. is still reeling from the trauma of 9/11. It has occupied two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq for a decade since. I happen to think that it was wrong to attack Iraq, in the same way that I think that Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank is wrong.

Professor Hawking: how can you and your colleagues who argue for an academic boycott of Israel justify your double standard by singling out Israel? You are simply denying that Israel has been under existential threat for most of its existence. To this day Hamas, one of the two major parties in Palestine, calls for Israel’s destruction, and its charter employs the vilest anti-Semitic language. To this day hardly a week goes by in which Iran and its proxy Hezbollah do not threaten to obliterate Israel, even though they have no direct conflict with Israel about anything.

Singling Israel out for academic boycott is, I believe, a case of profound hypocrisy. It is a way to ventilate outrage about the world’s injustices where the cost is low. I’m still waiting for the British academic who says he won’t cooperate with American institutions as long as Guantanamo is open, or as long as the U.S. continues targeted assassinations.

In addition to the hypocrisy, singling out Israel’s academia is pragmatically unwise, to put it mildly. Israel’s academia is largely liberal in its outlook, and many academics here have opposed Israel’s settlement policies for decades. But once again, British academics choose the easiest target to vent their rage in a way that does not contribute anything constructive to the Palestinian cause they support.

Israel, like any other country, can be criticized. But such criticism should not be based on shrill moralism and simplistic binary thinking – something I do not expect from academics. The real world is, unfortunately a messy, difficult place. Novelist Ian McEwan is quoted in the Guardian as saying that “If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed … It’s not great if everyone stops talking” when he was criticized for coming to Israel to receive the Jerusalem Prize for Literature in 2011.

He certainly has a point. Living up to the standards of human rights and the ideals of democracy in an imperfect world is difficult. Major thinkers like Philip Bobbitt and Michael Ignatieff have invested deep and comprehensive thought into the difficult topic of how to maintain the human rights standard in a world threatened by terrorism.

Professor Hawking, I would expect from a man of your intellectual stature to get involved in the difficult task of grappling with these questions. Taking the simple way out of singling out Israel by boycotting it academically does not behoove you intellectually or morally.

If your cancelation was indeed a function of pressures and not from health reasons, as stated by your university following The Guardian’s report, I would respect it if you were to reconsider your decision and come to the President’s Conference.

Carlo Strenger



So why did Stephen Hawking think it was ok to visit Iran and China?
By James Bloodworth
Left Foot Forward
May 9, 2013

After a great deal of confusing reports, it was confirmed yesterday that physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has pulled out of a conference in Israel next month after being lobbied by pro-Palestinian campaigners.

Initially some had claimed his decision to pull out of the conference was due to ill health, but a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking’s approval cleared the matter up.

“This is his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.”

So “respect for the boycott” was a humanitarian gesture, then?

Ok. But why did professor Hawking see fit to visit Iran in 2007 for a conference? As far as I am aware, there was no statement at the time from Hawking refusing to travel to the Islamic Republic out of “respect” for the country’s political dissidents, or until the government stopped executing homosexuals.

A year earlier, in 2006, Stephen Hawking visited China, whose government is responsible for large scale human rights abuses in Tibet. Tibet is, as Human Rights Watch noted several years before his visit, “a place where some of the most visible and egregious human rights violations committed by the Chinese state have occurred”. A 2008 UN report found that the use of torture in Tibet was “widespread” and “routine”.

There’s no need to be an apologist for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank to question where professor Hawking’s moral compass was when he chose to visit these two serial human rights abusers – and ask why it has suddenly appeared when the country in question is Israel.

Is Israel uniquely bad, or has hypocrisy towards the Jewish state become so widely accepted among some progressives that even an eminent scholar like Hawking is susceptible to hypocritical and lazy double standards?

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.