Friday, May 10

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

by Noam Sheizaf 

May 8, 2013

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.

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Israelis furious over Stephen Hawking’s conference pullout over Palestinian boycott call

by Patrick Martin

May 8, 2013
British physicist Stephen Hawking has announced he is withdrawing from a leading Israeli conference in deference to a Palestinian call to boycott this and other Israeli events.

The decision by Prof. Hawking, who was to have been a key speaker at the Israeli Presidential Conference next month in Jerusalem, has infuriated conference organizers and delivered one of the biggest names yet to the ranks of the growing international campaign to boycott Israel.

It also has drawn the enormous attention of Israelis themselves. By the end of the day Wednesday in Israel, items related to Prof. Hawking’s announcement were the number one, three and six of the most widely read pieces on the Haaretz newspaper’s website.

The annual Presidential Conference, now in its fifth year, is hosted by Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his efforts to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

According to its website, the conference brings together “world leaders, international scholars, activists, poets and scientists, artists and clergy, entrepreneurs, economists and industrialists, as well as representatives of the next generation of leaders” in order to discuss issues of geopolitics, economics, environment, culture and more. This year’s conference also is a celebration of Mr. Peres’s 90th birthday.

In his letter to conference organizers, Prof. Hawking stated he had reconsidered his earlier agreement to participate in the event. “I have received a number of e-mails from Palestinian academics,” he wrote. “They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”

The Israeli chairman of the conference, Israel Maimon, denounced Prof. Hawking’s decision to boycott the event as “outrageous and inappropriate, especially for one so fundamentally associated with the spirit of independence as a person and an academic.”

The British physicist, who has visited Israel on at least four occasions in the past, has been a frequent critic of Israeli policy. During the three-week-long conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2008-09, he described Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in retaliation to frequent rocket attacks as “plain out of proportion.”

“If Israel wants peace, it will have to talk to Hamas,” he said at the time. “Hamas are the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinian people and cannot be ignored.”

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