Tuesday, July 10, 2012

594 Stephen Hawking pulls out of Israeli conference in protest at treatment of Palestinians

Stephen Hawking pulls out of Israeli conference in protest at treatment
of Palestinians

(1) Stephen Hawking pulls out of Israeli conference in protest at
treatment of Palestinians
(2) Hawking accused of double standard: Israel’s violations are
negligible compared to other countries
(3) Boston Globe editorial on Stephen Hawking and BDS
(4) Mazin Qumsiyeh thanks Hawking
(5) Forward cartoon satirizes Hawking critics
(6) Cartoon Satire skewers Stephen Hawking’s Attackers

Newsletter published on 16-05-2013

(1) Stephen Hawking pulls out of Israeli conference in protest at
treatment of Palestinians

From: "Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics Earth Sciences)"
Date: Wed, 8 May 2013 10:58:31 -0400


Stephen Hawking joins academic boycott of Israel

Physicist pulls out of conference hosted by president Shimon Peres in
protest at treatment of Palestinians

Harriet Sherwood and Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

The Guardian, Wednesday 8 May 2013

Professor Stephen Hawking is backing the academic boycott of Israel by
pulling out of a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in
Jerusalem as a protest at Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

Hawking, 71, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and former
Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had
accepted an invitation to headline the fifth annual president's
conference, Facing Tomorrow, in June, which features major international
personalities, attracts thousands of participants and this year will
celebrate Peres's 90th birthday.

Hawking is in very poor health, but last week he wrote a brief letter to
the Israeli president to say he had changed his mind. He has not
announced his decision publicly, but a statement published by the
British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking's
approval described it 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".

Hawking's decision marks another victory in the campaign for boycott,
divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli academic institutions.

In April the Teachers' Union of Ireland became the first lecturers'
association in Europe to call for an academic boycott of Israel, and in
the United States members of the Association for Asian American Studies
voted to support a boycott, the first national academic group to do so.

In the four weeks since Hawking's participation in the Jerusalem event
was announced, he has been bombarded with messages from Britain and
abroad as part of an intense campaign by boycott supporters trying to
persuade him to change his mind. In the end, Hawking told friends, he
decided to follow the advice of Palestinian colleagues who unanimously
agreed that he should not attend.

Hawking's decision met with abusive responses on Facebook, with many
commentators focusing on his physical condition, and some accusing him
of antisemitism.

By participating in the boycott, Hawking joins a small but growing list
of British personalities who have turned down invitations to visit
Israel, including Elvis Costello, Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Annie Lennox
and Mike Leigh.

However, many artists, writers and academics have defied and even
denounced the boycott, calling it ineffective and selective. Ian McEwan,
who was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 2011, responded to critics by
saying: "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."

Noam Chomsky, a prominent supporter of the Palestinian cause, has said
that he supports the "boycott and divestment of firms that are carrying
out operations in the occupied territories" but that a general boycott
of Israel is "a gift to Israeli hardliners and their American supporters".

Hawking has visited Israel four times in the past. Most recently, in
2006, he delivered public lectures at Israeli and Palestinian
universities as the guest of the British embassy in Tel Aviv. At the
time, he said he was "looking forward to coming out to Israel and the
Palestinian territories and excited about meeting both Israeli and
Palestinian scientists".

Since then, his attitude to Israel appears to have hardened. In 2009,
Hawking denounced Israel's three-week attack on Gaza, telling Riz Khan
on Al-Jazeera that Israel's response to rocket fire from Gaza was "plain
out of proportion … The situation is like that of South Africa before
1990 and cannot continue."

Israel Maimon, chairman of the presidential conference said: "This
decision is outrageous and wrong.

"The use of an academic boycott against Israel is outrageous and
improper, particularly for those to whom the spirit of liberty is the
basis of the human and academic mission. Israel is a democracy in which
everyone can express their opinion, whatever it may be. A boycott
decision is incompatible with open democratic discourse."

In 2011, the Israeli parliament passed a law making a boycott call by an
individual or organisation a civil offence which can result in
compensation liable to be paid regardless of actual damage caused. It
defined a boycott as "deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or
academic ties with another person or another factor only because of his
ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under
its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic

• This article was amended on 8 May 2013. The original described Hawking
as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. He
stepped down in 2009.

(2) Hawking accused of double standard: Israel’s violations are
negligible compared to other countries

Stephen Hawking's message to Israeli elites: The occupation has a price

972 Mag, May 8, 2013

By Noam Sheizaf


By choosing to avoid the Presidential Conference – an annual meeting of
Israeli generals, politicians and business elites with their
international fans, Prof. Hawking reminds that the occupation cannot be
forgotten or avoided. A response to Haaretz’s Carlo Strenger.

The British Guardian on Wednesday reported that Prof. Stephen Hawking
has cancelled his appearance at the fifth Presidential Conference due to
take place this June, in protest of Israel’s treatment of the
Palestinians. The report was later confirmed by Cambridge University. A
spokeperson for the Jerusalem-based conference called Hawking’s decision
“outrageous and improper.”

One of Haaretz’s leading lefty columnists, Carlo Strenger, wrote an open
letter to Hawking echoing these feelings. After expressing pride in his
own opposition to the occupation, Strenger accuses Hawking of hypocrisy
and applying a double standard; he claims that Israel’s human rights
violations are “negligible” compared to those of other countries in the
world, and notes that the Israeli academia is for the most part liberal
and therefore can’t be blamed for the occupation.

I would like to respond to some of the points he makes, since they
represent a larger problem with the Israeli left.


While Hawking responded to the call for academic boycott, it should be
noted that the Presidential Conference is not an academic event: it’s an
annual celebration of the Israeli business, political and military
elites, whose purpose is unclear at best, and which has little
importance in Israeli life (it didn’t exist until five years ago). The
pro-occupation Right has a heavy presence at the conference – or at
least it felt that way last year, when I attended. I will get back to
the notion of “the liberal academia” and the Presidential Conference later.

Personally, I think we should put the “double standards” line of defense
to rest, since it’s simply an excuse against any form of action. The
genocide in Cambodia was taking place at the same time as the boycott
effort against South Africa. According to Prof. Strenger’s logic,
anti-Apartheid activists were guilty of double standards; they should
have concentrated their efforts on many other, and “much worse” regimes.

The notion according to which the horrors in Syria or Darfur make ending
the occupation a less worthy cause represents the worst kind of moral
relativism, especially when it’s being voiced by members of the
occupying society.

I’m also not sure what makes Israeli human rights violations
“negligible” compared to those of other countries. I certainly do not
think that killing hundreds of civilians in one month during Cast Lead
was “negligible,” but the occupation goes way beyond the number of
corpses it leaves behind – it has a lot to do with the pressure on the
daily lives of all Palestinians, and with the fact that it’s gone on for
so long, affecting people through their entire lives (I wrote on the
need to see beyond death statistics here). Plus, there is something
about the fact that it’s an Israeli who is determining that those human
rights violations are “negligible,” which makes me uneasy – just as we
don’t want to hear the Chinese using the same term when discussing Tibet.

I will not go into all of Strenger’s rationalizations for the occupation
– his claims that the Palestinians answered Israel’s generous peace
offers with the second Intifada; that as long as Hamas is in power there
is nobody to talk to, that Israel is fighting for its survival against
an existential threat, and so on. I don’t think that a fact-based
historical analysis supports any of these ideas, but Strenger is
entitled to his view. If you think the occupation is justified, or at
least inevitable, you obviously see any action against it as
illegitimate and uncalled for.

Yet the thing that made Prof. Strenger jump is not “any action” but
rather something very specific – the academic boycott. Personally, I
think that his text mostly portrays a self-perception of innocence.
Israel, according to Strenger, doesn’t deserve to be boycotted and the
“liberal academics” – like himself – specifically, don’t deserve it
because they “oppose the occupation.”

At this point in time, I think it’s impossible to make such
distinctions. The occupation – which will celebrate 46 years next month
– is obviously an Israeli project, to which all elements of society
contribute and from which almost all benefit. The high-tech industry’s
connection to the military has been widely discussed, the profit Israeli
companies make exploiting West Bank resources is documented and the
captive market for Israeli goods in the West Bank and Gaza is known.
Strenger’s own university cooperates with the army in various programs,
and thus contributes its own share to the national project.

I would also say that at this point in time, paying lip service to the
two state-solution while blaming the Palestinians for avoiding peace
cannot be considered opposing to the occupation, unless you want to
include Lieberman and Netanyahu in the peace camp. We should be asking
ourselves questions about political action as opposed to discussing our
views: where do we contribute to the occupation and what form of actions
do we consider legitimate in the fight against it?

Prof. Stephen Hawking responded to a Palestinian call for solidarity.
This is also something to remember – that the oppressed have opinions
too, and that empowering them is a worthy cause. In Strenger’s world,
the occupation is a topic of internal political discussion among the
Jewish-Israeli public. Some people support it, some people – more – are
against it; the Palestinians should simply wait for the tide to change
since “it is very difficult for Israeli politicians to convince Israelis
to take risks for peace.” And what happens if Israelis don’t chose to
end the occupation? (Which is exactly what they are doing, over and over
again.) I wonder what form of Palestinian opposition to the occupation
Prof. Strenger considers legitimate. My guess: none (code phrase: “they
should negotiate for peace”).


The issues of boycott and anti-normalization are perhaps the toughest
for Israeli leftists right now. Like everyone who deals with
Palestinians – if only occasionally – I have personally felt the effects
of various campaigns against the occupation. I could also say that I
have felt alienated by the language and tone of many pro-Palestinian
activists. Often I feel that they reject my Israeli identity as a whole,
sometimes even my existence. Many even refrain from using the name
“Israel”, leaving very little room for joint action or simply for
meaningful interaction.

But all this is beside the point right now. While I myself have never
advocated a full boycott, I think that the least Israeli leftists can do
is to not stand in the way of non-violent Palestinian efforts to end the
occupation. It’s not only the moral thing to do, but also a smarter
strategy because as long as Israelis don’t feel that the status quo is
taking some toll on their lives, they will continue to avoid the
unpleasant political choices which are necessary for terminating the
occupation. Since the Israeli left is often unable to admit its own
share in the occupation – and therefore acknowledge the legitimacy of
Palestinian resistance – again and again it acts against its own stated

2012 was the most peaceful year the West Bank has known in a long time
(for Israelis, that is), and yet at its very end, Israelis chose a
coalition which all but ignores the occupation. The problem is not just
the politicians; Israelis are simply absorbed by other issues. I hope
that Stephen Hawking’s absence will serve as a reminder for the
generals, politicians and diplomats who will attend the Presidential
Conference next month of the things happening just a few miles to their
east – as “negligible” as they may seem to some.

(3) Boston Globe editorial on Stephen Hawking and BDS

From: "Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics Earth Sciences)"
Date: Tue, 14 May 2013 12:26:30 -0400
Subject: Boston Globe on Stephen Hawking and BDS

Boston Globe editorial on Hawking's decision and the Boycott,
Divest,Sanctions movement.

Stephen Hawking makes a peaceful protest


When the esteemed physicist Stephen Hawking announced his decision to
boycott Israel’s Presidential Conference, a gathering of politicians,
scholars, and other high-profile figures scheduled for June, the
response was as predictable as the movement of the cosmos that inspired
Hawking’s career. The conference chair, Israel Maimon, called the move
“outrageous and improper,” while Omar Barghouti, a founder of the
boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement that advocates protests
against Israeli policies, declared, “Palestinians deeply appreciate
Stephen Hawking’s support.”

In fact, the decision to withdraw from a conference is a reasonable way
to express one’s political views. Observers need not agree with
Hawking’s position in order to understand and even respect his choice.
The movement that Hawking has signed on to aims to place pressure on
Israel through peaceful means. In the context of a Mideast conflict that
has caused so much destruction and cost so many lives, nonviolence is
something to be encouraged. That is equally true of attempts to inspire
cooperation on the Palestinian side.

Chances for a peaceful solution in Israel and Palestine are remote
enough without overreactions like Maimon’s. Foreclosing nonviolent
avenues to give people a political voice — and maybe bring about an
eventual resolution — only makes what is already difficult that much
more challenging.

(4) Mazin Qumsiyeh thanks Hawking

From: "Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics Earth Sciences)"
Date: Fri, 10 May 2013 12:41:23 -0400
Subject: Thanking Stephen Hawking

From: Mazin Qumsiyeh
[He is chairman of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between
People and serves on the board of Al-Rowwad Children's Theater Center in
Aida Refugee Camp. He published several books including "Sharing the
Land of Canaan: human rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Struggle"]
Sent: Friday, May 10, 2013

Dear Prof. Hawking

I served as Associate Professor of Genetics and director of cytogenetic
services at Duke and then at Yale University. I moved to Palestine 5
years ago where I now teach at Bethlehem University. Here it is an
apartheid state where 7 million Palestinains are refugees throughout the
Middle East and the rest of us are in shrinking ghettoes. My students
have to struggle to get to their classes through checkpoints and walls
(those are the lucky ones with permits). Of course our university used
to have a more diverse faculty and student body but this has been
severly limited because most transportation routes are now off limits to
us. We thank you for taking a stand not to normalize with an apartheid

Mazin Qumsiyeh



by Chemi Shalev

Stephen Hawking is now the academic boycott movement’s unlikely poster boy

Israel is no South Africa, but boycotts spark similar public reactions.
The more Hawking is condemned, the more severe the repercussions will be.

By Chemi Shalev | 21:30 08.05.13 |

1. The regrettable decision of world-renowned astro-physicist Stephen
Hawking to cancel his participation in the upcoming President Conference
could be a breakthrough moment for the anti-Israel boycott movement. The
recruitment of such a universally respected and admired international
figure to the cause of BDS  (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) clearly
overshadows other significant gains that boycott advocates have made
recently with groups such as the the Irish Teachers Union or the
Association for Asian American Studies. With Hawking, the
Palestinian-inspired BDS movement now has a powerful symbol and an
unlikely poster boy at its disposal in its increasingly successful drive.

The full text is available for subscribers & registered users.

(5) Forward cartoon satirizes Hawking critics

The Forward, May 14, 2013

Brief History of Stephen Hawking's Hypocrisy

By Eli Valley

British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking waded into the Israel debate last
week by announcing his decision to boycott an academic conference. Eli
Valley offers his own unique graphic take on the controversy.

Got wheels, Mr. Hawking?

(6) Cartoon Satire skewers Stephen Hawking’s Attackers



The Forward’s Eli Valley has penned a deliciously sly, knowing send-up
of the hasbara bonanza that followed on Stephen Hawking’s cancellation
of his talk at the Shimon Peres conference.  Those of you who followed
it could read any number of the hasbarafia who noted that Hawking’s
speech processor contained an Intel chip developed in Israel.  Haaretz’s
Chemi Shalev even used the disgusting, condescending term “poster boy”
to describe Hawking’s supposed relation to the BDS movement.

Valley titles his cartoon, The Hypocrisy of Stephen Hawking. But don’t
be fooled because he’s speaking in the voice of the pro-Israel crowd who
were in high dudgeon over the affair.  He begins his list of Israel’s
achievements with the Intel processor, but by the end he’s claiming
Hawking’s teeth contain phosphorus:

Teeth: Teeth contain phosphorus.  Israel is a global leader in white
phosphorus technology.

By then, the joke’s on the hasbara crowd, who began thinking Valley
would ratify their prejudices, and ended feeling confused and even
betrayed.  That’s the hidden power of the best satire.  The target may
read it believing it reinforces his worst prejudices.  But by the end,
he develops a sinking, queasy feeling in his stomach that something’s
not quite right.  As Dylan once sang:

Something’s happenin’ here but you don’t know what it is,
Do you, Mr. Jones?

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