Last Friday, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking wrote to the organizers of an upcoming conference in Jerusalem, telling them he was backing out of a commitment to participate, in solidarity with Palestinian academics who had asked him to reconsider attending. Here is part of his letter:
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. Had I attended I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.
The story of his cancellation broke Wednesday morning in the Guardian:
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.
Although the Guardian article appeared to be authoritative when it was published, it was soon questioned, based on a statement emanating from the communication office of his employer, Cambridge University:
Tim Holt, media director at the University of Cambridge spokesman, said Hawking’s decision was based strictly on health concerns.
“For health reasons, his doctors said he should not be flying at the moment so he’s decided not to attend,” said Holt. “He is 71-years-old. He’s fine, but he has to be sensible about what he can do.”
A University of Cambridge statement released earlier Wednesday cited “personal reasons” for his decision. Hawking, who has ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, cannot move his body and uses a wheelchair. He communicates through a computerized voice system.
The story of Hawking’s cancellation, carried by the Guardian had little traction Wednesday morning, but the story of the Guardian having blown the real reason for Hawking’s backing out got it up into major news aggregators, such as memeorandum. Throughout Wednesday morning, there was confusion. Hawking was attacked severely on facebook and elsewhere, savaged for being ungrateful to Israelis for creating technology that helps him continue to communicate, and for not being that good of a scientist:
if one decides to Boycott Israel, then one must be consistent, if Mr. Hawking decides to boycott us he should also refrain from using his means of communications as he is using products that were invented and produced in Israel. it is very interesting though that we continue to hear him isn’t it.
and (I like this one):
Who cares? He hasn’t been coherent since he wrote that the universe was capable of creating itself. His kind of “reason” fits neither science nor sociology…but it’s perfectly suited to politics.
Given that much of his work is based on Israeli scientists’ work. I guess it was fine to use Jacob Bekenstein’s research to further his own fame (after previously deriding his ideas), but heavens forbid he visit the man’s homeland! Why, that would just be WRONG!
An Israeli company made a medicine that cures ALS, so go ahead Mr. Genius Idiot, Boycott Israel.
When the contrary statement from Cambridge claiming health reasons as being the real motivator came out Wednesday morning, some pro-Zionist blogs strutted Cambridge communicator Holt’s obfuscation out as proof of the Guardian‘s anti-Israel agenda:
The Guardian, which broke the story late last night, claimed that Hawking was due to boycott Israel after receiving an erroneous statement from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), apparently with Hawking’s approval.
The statement said that the move was “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”.
However, a Cambridge university spokesperson has confirmed to The Commentator that there was a “misunderstanding” this past weekend, and that Prof. Hawking had pulled out of the conference for medical reasons.
In comments to the feuding articles, inevitable comparisons between Hawking and Albert Einstein were made. Soon after the formation of Israel, the great physicist was invited to go to Israel to become President. He declined:
When [Israeli] President Chaim Weizmann died in 1952, Einstein was asked to be Israel’s second president, but he declined, stating that he had “neither the natural ability nor the experience to deal with human beings.” He wrote: “I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it.”
Carefully chosen words. Four years ago, I compiled the most authoritative web version I know of Einstein’s April 17th, 1938 Commodore Hotel speech. All others leave out the last two sentences, which I here emphasize:
I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish State. Apart from practical considerations, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish State, with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain – especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish State. We are no longer the Jews of the Maccabee period.
A return to a nation in the political sense of the word, would be equivalent to turning away from the spiritualization of our community which we owe to the genius of our prophets.
Einstein uttered this profound declaration before the horrors of World War II, which left over 60 million dead, 10% of them Jewish. After the war, and during the very early years of Israeli existence, he could be conflicted regarding his support for the new Levantine crusader state, created largely by colonists from north central Europe.
Hawking is a non-Jewish atheist, apparently appalled by his encounters with what Einstein feared, “the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks.” Einstein believed deeply in the existence of something beyond what he or we might readily explain through scientific method – “God,” if you will.
Hawking’s reaching out to pleas from Palestinian academics and scientists is motivated more by his well-known penchant for not wanting to put up with bullshit.
I wish Prof. Hawking had decided to attend. As he wrote to the guy who cannot claim to be Einstein’s successor to a failing dream, “Had I attended I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”
It already has. Einstein, was a true Jewish prophet along the lines of Ezekiel, Elisha and Elijah, among others. Had he accepted the offer to become Israel’s president, a largely symbolic office, it may have changed the course of human events on the Levant. He predicted the ongoing disaster’s inevitability. Hawking, like Einstein, questions the charade.
Who will be next?