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Stephen Hawking joins academic boycott of Israel

Professor Stephen Hawking died at the age of 76, after over 5 decades of a deadly disease that left him handicapped and crippled on a wheelchair, communicating through an electronic device. He had published “A short history of time” that sold 8 million. He was officially received by world leaders and monarch.

Physicist pulls out of conference hosted by president Shimon Peres in protest at treatment of Palestinians
What really winds up Israel is that this rejection comes from a famous scientist, and it is science that drives its economy, prestige and military strength

Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott the Israeli president’s conference has gone viral. Over 100,000 Facebook shares of the Guardian report at last count. Whatever the subsequent fuss, Hawking’s letter is unequivocal. His refusal was made because of requests from Palestinian academics.

Stephen Hawking mystery
 Hawking’s boycott ‘threatens to open a floodgate with more and more scientists coming to regard Israel as a pariah state’. Photograph: PA

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.

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.” (Palestinian deputies in Israel are Not allowed to express freely their opinions)

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 damage”.

 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.

 

Stephen Hawking’s boycott hits Israel where it hurts: science

What really winds up Israel is that this rejection comes from a famous scientist, and it is science that drives its economy, prestige and military strength
Posted by and  on May 13, 2013
Stephen Hawking mystery

Hawking’s boycott threatens to open a floodgate with more and more scientists coming to regard Israel as a pariah state’. Photograph: PA

Stephen Hawking‘s decision to boycott the Israeli president’s conference has gone viral.

Over 100,000 Facebook shares of the Guardian report at last count.

Whatever the subsequent fuss, Hawking’s letter is unequivocal. His refusal was made because of requests from Palestinian academics.

Witness the speed with which the pro-Israel lobby seized on Cambridge University’s initial false claim that he had withdrawn on health grounds to denounce the boycott movement, and their embarrassment when within a few hours the university shamefacedly corrected itself.

Hawking also made it clear that if he had gone he would have used the occasion to criticise Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

While journalists named him “the poster boy of the academic boycott” and supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement celebrated, Ha’aretz, the most progressive of the Israeli press, drew attention to the inflammatory language used by the conference organisers, who described themselves as “outraged” rather than that they “regretted” Hawking’s decision.

That the world’s most famous scientist had recognised the justice of the Palestinian cause is potentially a turning point for the BDS campaign.

And that Hawking ‘s stand was approved by a majority of two to one in the Guardian poll that followed his announcement shows just how far public opinion has turned against Israel’s relentless land-grabbing and oppression.

Hawking’s public refusal follows that of prominent singers, artists and writers, from Brian Eno to Mike Leigh, Alice Walker and Adrienne Rich, all of whom have publicly rejected invitations to perform in Israel.

But what winds Israel up is the fact that this rejection is by a famous scientist and that science and technology drive its economy. Hawking’s decision threatens to open a floodgate with more and more scientists coming to regard Israel as a pariah state. Its research ties with European and American scientists must be protected.

That Israel, a Middle East country, has managed to secure membership of the European Research Area and the many collaborative links with European labs underlines the importance of these links.

When European parliamentarians challenged its membership on the grounds of Israel’s numerous breaches of UN resolutions and of the European Human Rights conventions, the European Commission responded to the effect that research trumped human rights.

Israel’s science and technology are not just a source of prestige and technological innovation, but underpin its military strength.

It was an Israeli engineer who developed the drones that the US now employs in quantity.

Israeli home-produced chemical weapons minimally match those of Syria, and Israeli universities amply supply the Israel Defence Forces with the sociological, psychological and technological methods it employs to suppress Palestinian protests against the occupation.

The complicity of Israeli academia in Israeli state policy is incontrovertible.

However, this is the first time that a scientist of Hawking’s status has taken so public a stand – and the hyperventilating response of the Jerusalem conference organisers (it is worth noting that the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where the conference Hawking refused to attend was to be held, is built on illegally annexed Palestinian land) has only added to its public impact.

Lastly it has been the very public debates over the rights and wrongs of an academic boycott that have drawn attention to the subservience of the Israeli universities to the state.

Until the boycott began internal critics were few and far between, and some of the sharpest such as Ilan Pappé were forced out. However, this subservience is beginning to yield.

When in 2012 the education minister attempted to close the politics department at Ben Gurion on “academic grounds”, it was immediately recognised as a political attack on one of the very few departments where academics were willing to name Israel as an apartheid state.

Prof Gilad Haran from the Weizmann Institute launched a petition stating “We sense that academic freedom in Israel’s higher education system is in severe danger.” The department remains open – one small victory.

CNN’s footage offers further clear proof that Israeli authorities are lying about…
electronicintifada.net

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