Conference boycotted by Hawking has featured top Palestinian speakers every year

May 13, 2013

A Canadian actor plays Shylock


* The Times of London (lead editorial) : “Brilliance in one sphere does not guarantee sense in another. So it is with Professor Hawking. His conduct is obtuse, mean-spirited and ungracious. Above all, it is alien to the spirit of critical thinking on which science and academic inquiry depend.”

* Rod Liddle on Hawking in The Sunday Times: “I wonder what Hawking’s hero, the late mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing would have thought of this. A short while ago, Hawking was a leading signatory to a campaign for Turing to be posthumously pardoned – he had been convicted of homosexuality 60 years ago. Turing would get 10 years in prison in Gaza today, although there is a healthy penal reform lobby within the mosques who think this sentence should be non-custodial – that is, it should be changed to death by stoning.”

* Netanyahu: “Just as Hawking knows that there are many false theories in science, he should know that there are also false theories in politics, and the slandering of Israel is one of them.”

* Netanyahu’s advisor: History shows that there are people who are no less great than Hawking who believed prejudicial things about Jews, such as Voltaire and Shakespeare.

* Longtime senior Ha’aretz columnist Akiva Eldar: “One would have expected Professor Hawking to be a tad more sophisticated. Those boycotting Israel’s rich intellectual life are stupid and shallow. Hawking should have known that the results of such boycotts tend to be the exact opposite of what was intended. By boycotting Peres’ Conference, what Hawking really did was bestow an invaluable gift on all of those who claim (a group headed by Netanyahu) that the de-legitimization campaign being waged against Israel has nothing to do with the occupation, the settlements, or the moribund diplomatic talks. It challenges the very right of the Jewish state to exist as a sovereign political entity.”


* This is a follow-up to last week’s dispatch: So why did Stephen Hawking think it was ok to visit Iran and China?

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



1. Conference boycotted by Hawking has featured Palestinian speakers every year
2. Anti-Zionist Jews behind boycott calls
3. Netanyahu: Hawking should “study the facts”
4. “A brief history of humbug” (By Rod Liddle, London Sunday Times, May 12, 2013)
5. “Abuse of Science” (Editorial, The Times of London, May 10, 2013)
6. “Chomsky was behind lobby to get Hawking to boycott Israel conference” (By Robert Booth, The Guardian, May 10, 2013)
7. “Stephen Hawking’s ‘Black Hole’ in boycotting Israel” (By Akiva Eldar, Al-Monitor, May 12, 2013)


[Notes below by Tom Gross]

The organizers of Shimon Peres’ Jerusalem Presidential Conference next month, which is being boycotted by British Professor Stephen Hawking, supposedly in solidarity with the Palestinians, tell me that in each year of its four year existence it has featured prominent Palestinian speakers, including key members of the Palestinian Authority.

This year’s conference will again include at least one leading member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Munib al-Masri.

Others who have attended and/or spoken at the conference in the last couple of years include:

* Palestinian academic Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, who is professor of Political Science at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem
* Palestinian Legislative Council member and peace negotiator Ziyad Abu Zayyad
* Palestinian Authority peace negotiator Hiba Husseini
* Munther Suleiman Dajani Daoudi, the dean of the Faculty of Arts at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem and who previously served as the director general of the Palestinian Ministry of Economy and Trade
* Jibril Rajoub, the deputy secretary general of Fatah’s Central Committee, and head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee
* Bashar Masri, the man behind the development of the first ever planned Palestinian city in the West Bank, Rawabi, which is currently being built with both Israeli and Palestinian help

If Hawking studied the facts about Israel, he would know that Palestinian leaders and academics visit Israel on a regular basis. Just last week, a delegation of Palestinian officials including the Palestinian Minister of Health, paid an official visit to Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital, in order to increase cooperation between the hospital and the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health. (The hospital – like all Israeli hospitals – already treats many Palestinian patients and employs Palestinian staff, including doctors.)



Hawking wrote in a letter published in the British paper The Guardian on Thursday:

“I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference.”

However, like much else he has said recently about Israel, this also seems to be very disingenuous of Hawking.

For it is not Palestinian academics, but far left Jewish academics including Noam Chomsky who organized the letter writing campaign that bullied Hawking into a boycott. Several of these academics are so hostile to Jews collectively and to the Jewish state that some people might accuse them of being “self-hating Jews.”



Asked about Hawking’s boycott decision at a press conference in Beijing, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was on a six-day visit to China (where he met most of the senior Chinese political and business leadership) said Hawking should “study the facts.”

“He should investigate the truth, he is a scientist. He should study the facts and draw the necessary conclusions: Israel is an island of reason, moderation and a desire for peace” in the Middle East.

Netanyahu said that Hawking knows that there are many false theories in science. “There are also false theories in politics, and the slandering of Israel is one of them, maybe the foremost among them,” he said. “There is no state that yearns for peace more than Israel, nor any state that has done more for peace than Israel.”

One official in the prime minister’s entourage went further, comparing Hawking to Shakespeare and Voltaire, both of whom, he said, held anti-Semitic sentiments.

“History shows that there are people who are no less great than Hawking who believed things about Jews that it was impossible to imagine they actually believed,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “I am talking about Voltaire, or Shakespeare. How do you explain that someone with the encyclopedic knowledge of Voltaire believed what he did about the Jews. How can you explain it? But it is a fact.”

Apparently, the official continued, “intelligence and achievements are no guarantee for understanding the truth about Jews or their state. What was true regarding Jews for generations, is now true about the state of the Jews.”


Tom Gross adds: Voltaire and Shakespeare worked in completely different historical periods so I am not sure the comparison is that helpful, and in the case of Shakespeare it’s not even a clear cut matter as to whether he was anti-Semitic. (Those interested in the subject may wish to read my father’s book, Shylock by John Gross, a masterful study of 400 years of the uses and misuses of one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters – exploring how Shylock was viewed by everyone from Freud and Marx to the Nazis.)

A masterful study of 400 years of the uses and misuses of Shylock, by John Gross


I attach four articles below.




Professor Hawking’s protest is a brief history of humbug
By Rod Liddle (columnist)
(London) Sunday Times
May 12, 2013

The behaviour of Stephen Hawking has become as confusing as that of those fairly small particles he gets so excited about, muons and bosons and the like. Perhaps he, too, is capable of being in two places at the same time; one where he is a brilliant and compelling communicator, then the other where he is nothing but a shallow conduit for the hysterical and fascistic academic left.

A statement issued on his behalf explained that he was persuaded by Palestinian colleagues to boycott an academic conference taking place in Israel, because of its policies towards the Palestinians. Right on, Stevie!

I wonder what Hawking’s hero, the late mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing would have thought of this. A short while ago, Hawking was a leading signatory to a campaign for Turing to be posthumously pardoned – he had been convicted of homosexuality 60 years ago.

Turing would get 10 years in prison in Gaza today, although there is a healthy penal reform lobby within the mosques who think this sentence should be non-custodial – that is, it should be changed to death by stoning followed by being doused in Allah’s cleansing fires for eternity. Indeed, Hawking is boycotting one of the only states in the region where Turing would not have been imprisoned on account of his sexuality. Peculiar, isn’t it? Unless on that occasion – as on this – Hawking was just grandstanding for a fashionable cause.

Or perhaps it’s this: maybe Hawking, who has motor neurone disease and uses a wheelchair, finds Hamas’s non-discriminatory jihadist spirit amenable. The group is determined to afford mentally disabled Palestinians a certain prominence in the fight against the Zionist entity by strapping Semtex to their bodies and cheerfully pointing them in the direction of the Israelis. Hamas will use children and women for the same purpose.

Professor Hawking has a problem, mind. He uses an astonishing speech-generation device that has made his voice recognisable the world over. Its most important component is a fiendishly clever silicon chip that was designed in . . . yes, Israel. It is not clear how Hawking will square this problem. Perhaps he will protest against himself.

The Boycott Israel crowd are gaining ground, there’s no doubt about that. A few years ago, a loathsome woman called Mona Baker, then head of translation studies at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, sacked two contributors to an academic journal because they were Israeli. She explained that they could no longer be employed seeing what beastly Israel was doing to the brave, democratic and liberal Palestinians.

There was widespread revulsion at this act, which seemed an example of infantile leftism mixed with a hefty dose of anti-semitism. But since then, partly through bullying and partly because academics are even more gullible than the rest of us, the movement has enjoyed a certain respectability.

It shouldn’t. It is foul, cruel and illogical. And why boycott Israel and not Iran, or North Korea, or Saudi Arabia, or Zimbabwe? Why persecute Israeli academics who may well themselves object to their government’s policies in the West Bank? Professor Hawking – still brilliant, and still loved, just about – should be deeply ashamed of himself.



Abuse of Science: Hawking’s boycott of Israel is intellectually and morally disreputable
The Times of London
May 10, 2013

Stephen Hawking ranks among the most famous scientists of the past century for his personal as well as intellectual achievements. A mind that has expanded knowledge of the origins of the Universe has also imbued its possessor with a mental resilience capable of surviving a debilitating disease. But brilliance in one sphere does not guarantee sense in another.

So it is with Professor Hawking, who revealed this week that he had withdrawn from a conference in Israel after being lobbied by Palestinian groups. His conduct is obtuse, mean-spirited and ungracious. Above all, it is alien to the spirit of critical thinking on which science and academic inquiry depend.

It is notable that Professor Hawking’s computer-based communication system runs on a chip designed by Israel’s Intel team. Whereas Israeli technology literally provides him with a voice, Professor Hawking supports a boycott campaign that seeks to penalise and isolate Israeli academics. But that modest irony should not be maligned as hypocrisy: Professor Hawking is entitled to express political views. Unfortunately his views on this subject are drearily simplistic and the inferences he draws from them are pernicious.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict understandably provokes strong passions. The Times is a longstanding supporter of Israel but this has never stopped us from criticising successive Israeli governments’ policies on settlements or dimmed our belief in a two-state solution with a sovereign Palestine. The campaign for an academic boycott of Israel is not only about the condition of Palestinians in the West Bank or Israel’s security policies in Gaza. The boycotters are hostile to the Jewish State, which they compare to the system of institutionalised racial discrimination practised in apartheid South Africa.

Israel has many flaws but a central and vital characteristic. It is a democracy in a part of the world where liberal political rights and free inquiry are scarce. An academic boycott is itself made possible by the critical ethos of Israeli culture. A closed society such as Iran, whose President denies the Holocaust, is hardly likely to be an international centre for scholarship in modern European history.

But even if Israel were a society as deformed as its opponents claim, an academic boycott would still be iniquitous. Conor Cruise O’Brien, the historian and polymath, criticised the academic boycott even of South Africa in the era of apartheid, as “an intellectually disreputable attempt to isolate what I know to be an honest, open and creative intellectual community”. He was right on this. Economic sanctions against a racist regime were right; penalising scholars for the deplorable policies of their government, over which they had no control, was not.

Though there is no serious analogy between Israel and apartheid, the scholars and venues whom the anti-Israel campaigners target are in a similar position to their South African counterparts a generation ago. Israeli academics may disagree strongly with the policies of their own Government, yet are being maligned and slandered on extraneous political grounds.

Professor Hawking should never have put his name to this campaign. It is an example of intellectual obscurantism masquerading as humanitarian concern. And that is stupid.



Noam Chomsky was behind lobby to get Stephen Hawking to boycott Israel conference
By Robert Booth
The Guardian
May 10, 2013

Noam Chomsky was among 20 academics who privately lobbied Professor Stephen Hawking to boycott a major Israeli conference, it has emerged.

Chomsky, a US professor and well-known supporter of the Palestinian cause, joined British academics from the universities of Cambridge, London, Leeds, Southampton, Warwick, Newcastle, York and the Open University to tell Hawking they were “surprised and deeply disappointed” that he had accepted the invitation to speak at next month’s presidential conference in Jerusalem, which will chaired by Shimon Peres and attended by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

Hawking pulled out this week in protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, in the wake of receiving the letter and soundings from Palestinian colleagues. The 71-year-old theoretical physicist’s decision has been warmly welcomed by Palestinian academics, with one describing it as “of cosmic proportions”, but was attacked in Israel.

On Friday the liberal academic David Newman, dean of the faculty of humanities and social sciences at Ben Gurion University in Israel, warned that an academic boycott “just destroys one of the very few spaces left where Israelis and Palestinians actually do come together”.

Chomsky, who has backed “boycott and divestment of firms that are carrying out operations in the occupied territories”, agreed to add his considerable weight to the pressure on Hawking after email correspondence with the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine campaign group (Bricup), said its chair, Jonathan Rosenhead.

The letter to Hawking declared: “Israel systematically discriminates against the Palestinians who make up 20% of its population in ways that would be illegal in Britain”, its treatment of the people of Gaza amounts to “collective punishment”, the construction of Jewish settlements breaches the Geneva convention and “Israel places multiple roadblocks, physical, financial and legal, in the way of higher education, both for its own Palestinian citizens and those under occupation”.

The letter continued: “Israel has a name for the promotion of its cultural and scientific standing: ‘Brand Israel’. This is a deliberate policy of camouflaging its oppressive acts behind a cultured veneer.”

Professor Malcolm Levitt, a fellow of the Royal Society and an expert in magnetic resonance at Southampton University, who signed the letter, said: “Israel has a totally explicit policy of making life impossible for the non-Jewish population and I find it totally unacceptable. As a scientist, the tool I have available to prevent the normalisation of that situation is boycott. It is a tough choice because Israel is full of brilliant scientists and they are our colleagues.”

Bricup is now to call on Lord Skidelsky, a leading economic historian, to refuse his invitation to speak at the conference. Skidelsky, emeritus professor of political economy at the University of Warwick and a Tory peer, declined to comment and is understood to still be planning to attend.

News of Chomsky’s role in what has been considered the coup of Hawking’s decision for the movement came amid growing signs in UK academia of interest in supporting boycotts of Israel. At its annual congress beginning on 29 May, the University and College Union will urge its 120,000 members to consider rethinking links with Israeli academic institutions. Teachers and lecturers will be asked to “consider the appropriateness of Israeli institutional associations”, according to a draft motion.

“It is brave of Hawking for the straightforward reason that someone who has his prominence will be targeted for vilification,” said Tom Hickey, a member of the UCU’s executive committee who put forward the draft motion. “If he can do that then all of us should think of doing it. This isn’t about targeting Israeli scholars but targeting the institutions.”

Pro-boycott academics believe action by scientists is particularly effective in opposing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians because the country’s strength in science and technology is a key driver of the economy, and they claim the research capabilities of Israeli academic institutions have been deployed in support of advanced programmes such as the development of drone aircraft.

On Friday the fallout from Hawking’s decision continued to be felt. “It is one of the starkest indicators yet that the tide is changing in the western mainstream against Israel’s occupation, colonisation and apartheid, and that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is fast reaching its South Africa moment of maturity and impact,” said Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights activist and founding member of the BDS.

Others warned it would damage Israeli-Palestinian relations. “There are certain areas that are above political boycotts whatever your political positions are,” said Newman. “Scientific co-operation is one of those particularly when you think of the wider benefits of science on the whole. In this context, universities are among the few spaces in Israel-Palestine where, even in these difficult times, there is some sort of dialogue and co-operation.”

The British author Ian McEwan, who was criticised two years ago when he visited Israel to accept the Jerusalem Prize, said: “My feeling [in 2011] was that I wished to engage with the best elements of Israeli society and I don’t want to isolate those people,” he said.

He said there were dozens of countries “whose governments we might loathe or disapprove of” but “Israel-Palestine has become sort of tribal and a touchstone for a certain portion of the intellectual classes. I say this in the context of thinking it is profoundly wrong of the Israeli government not to be pursuing more actively and positively and creatively a solution with the Palestinians. That’s why I think one wants to go to these places to make the point. Turning away will not produce any result.”

Samia Botmeh, director of the centre for development studies at Birzeit University in the West Bank, and a member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’s steering committee, said Hawking’s decision had significantly boosted the boycott movement locally and internationally, but denied there had been a “huge, orchestrated campaign” to persuade him. “It will be easier now for other academics who have been supportive of Palestinian rights but were reluctant to act on their support,” she said.



Stephen Hawking’s ‘Black Hole’ In Boycotting Israel
By Akiva Eldar
May 12, 2013

(Tom Gross: Akiva Eldar was until recently a senior columnist and editorial writer for Ha’aretz.)

One would have expected Professor Stephen Hawking to be a tad more sophisticated.

Hawking has become an esteemed figure in the scientific community because of his groundbreaking research into the origins of the universe and its future. He’s also quite popular among the general public, because of his book A Brief History of Time, which quickly became a bestseller, and the way he contends with Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). The last thing anyone can say about this British prodigy from Cambridge is that he is stupid or shallow.

That is why Hawking’s decision to join the academic boycott of Israel leaves something of a “black hole” on his reputation.

Last week Hawking canceled his plans to participate in the annual President’s Conference, organized by President Shimon Peres and scheduled to be held in Jerusalem June 18-20. At this event, thousands of guests from around the world will convene to discuss solutions to major global issues. This year’s conference is expected to be especially notable, because it marks the 90th birthday of Israel’s president. Hawking announced that he was canceling his plans to come. The reason he gave was Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Two adjectives I used earlier were “stupid” and “shallow.” These could well be used to describe the decision by academics, authors and artists to join the boycott of Israel’s rich intellectual life (this is probably where it is important to emphasize that this boycott is in opposition to Israel per se, and not against the occupation or against the settlements constructed beyond Israel’s formal boundaries in Palestinian territory that is in a state of ongoing military occupation).

An example of this is the supporters of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement, which advocates an economic, cultural, and academic boycott, the withdrawal of all investments, and the implementation of sanctions against Israel, with no distinction made between the two sides of the Green Line. There can be no doubt that they were especially pleased by Hawking’s decision. They eagerly added his name to the growing list of celebrities and international organizations that are boycotting Israel, a list that includes filmmakers Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, author Alice Walker, musicians Elvis Costello and Roger Waters, Johannesburg University, the Irish labor unions and Japanese retail design company Muji.

It is undoubtedly unpleasant for the average “proud Israeli” to be marked as a “pariah” by some of the leading scientists and intellectuals around the world. Nor can there be any doubt that in the “zero-sum game” between Israel and the Palestinians, the latter have scored another victory.

Nevertheless, a brilliant physicist such as Hawking should have realized that it’s impossible to deal with the complex reality of the Middle East through boycotts, no matter what kind they are. He should have known that the results of such boycotts tend to be the exact opposite of what was originally intended.

Let us assume for a moment that Hawking wanted to protest the Israeli occupation and expedite a withdrawal from the territories. Still, his decision to boycott the President’s Conference not only fails to strengthen the peace camp in this country. It actually weakens it. This was best expressed by President’s Conference Chairman Yisrael Maimon. According to him, boycotting an event that bears the name of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Peres only serves to strengthen the extreme right, which continues to call Peres the “Criminal of the Oslo accords.” Without even intending to do so, Hawking and other like-minded individuals have taken one of the few public figures in Israel, who has openly supported the Arab Peace Initiative and maintained an ongoing dialogue with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Rather than embrace him, they present him as someone who lives in some “illusion of peace.”

By boycotting Peres’ President’s Conference, what Hawking really did was bestow an invaluable gift on all of those who claim (a group headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) that the de-legitimization campaign being waged against Israel has nothing to do with the Occupation, the settlements, or the moribund diplomatic talks. It challenges the very right of the Jewish state to exist as a sovereign political entity.

In his most recent book, Ha-Am ha-Mechutzaf (The Nation with Chutzpah), internationally acclaimed Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer examined the moral common ground between Israel’s regime of occupation and the apartheid regime in South Africa. Bauer begins by expressing his opinion that “Israel is instituting a regime of occupation through what can only be described as a nationalist policy.” Nevertheless, he ultimately determines that unlike South Africa’s apartheid policy, black-, white-, and brown-skinned people live beside each other. Bauer then goes on to remind us that in May 2010, when the killing of nine Turks aboard the Marmara flotilla raid caused an international commotion, hundreds of civilians were killed in Darfur as a result of an attack by the Sudanese Army and its allies, while many hundreds more died in the fighting between rival militias in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bauer then draws a red line between legitimate, and even justifiable, criticism of Israel’s occupation policies, and the boycotts, ostracizing, and unimpeded incitement against Israel, which reek of anti-Semitism.

Comparing Israel to South Africa is unjustified. Imposing the same model of sanctions against Israel would therefore be unwise. It’s well known that the apartheid regime only increased its aggressive policies against blacks as the sanctions intensified. In the 1987 elections, when the sanctions were at their peak, extreme right-wing nationalist parties gained strength. A group of researchers headed by Gary Clyde Hufbauer of the Institute for International Economics in Washington evaluated no less than 116 cases of sanctions and embargoes imposed on various countries since World War I. They found that no more than one-third of them had positive results. Most of them, including the embargo on South Africa, were only partial and ineffective. Furthermore, the arms embargo accelerated South Africa’s development of a local arms industry, which became a major source of exports. The harm that sanctions caused the economy affected no more than 1 percent of the GNP.

The main factors that brought about the end of the apartheid regime were bold and visionary leadership among both the White minority and the Black majority, and the end of the Cold War.

It is also worth noting that officially at least, Israel has also imposed boycotts of its own. For example, it prevented linguist Noam Chomsky from visiting the Palestinian Birzeit University. With all due foolishness, it regularly prevents other harsh critics of its occupation policy like Norman Finkelstein from entering the country, and it has expelled pro-Palestinian activists.

This author has no qualms about unreserved criticism of the various Israeli governments’ attitudes toward the Palestinians or their settlement policies, which hinder the chances of reaching a two-state solution, even though that is the only way to ensure that Israel remains a democratic, moral state with a Jewish character. I take precautions not to allow any products manufactured in the settlements to enter my home, and I praise every foreign government that marks imported goods manufactured in the settlements.

Nevertheless, there is a vast difference between that and a comprehensive boycott of Israel’s president, academics, cultural institutions, and economy. It is even greater than the difference between Israel’s occupation regime in the Occupied Territories and the apartheid regime in South Africa.

I would recommend to Hawking that he should learn a lesson from Spanish author Antonio Muńoz Molina, who was also pressured to boycott Israel. Molina accepted an invitation to come to Jerusalem in February to receive the prestigious Jerusalem Prize for Literature. He then donated the prize money to the Hand in Hand network of joint Jewish-Arab schools, which teaches coexistence. In an article in Ha’aretz, Molina wrote that whenever any European journalist asked him why he agreed to go to Jerusalem to receive the prize, he answered that he believes that many Israelis support a just peace with the Palestinians and are critical of the settlements just like any progressive European would be. “After shaking his head, I expected my questioner to respond, ‘But they are an ever-dwindling minority.’ I immediately answered him, ‘That makes it all the more right for us to stand by their side’.”

And so, Professor Hawking, let me be brief: When considering the history of the reason to come to Jerusalem and show support for the peace camp, you still have time.

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