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Stephen Hawking Joins Academic Boycott

The black hole of exclusionary logic

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Ehud Olmert With Stephen Hawking in Israel in 2006.(PeopleDaily)

Of all the challenges facing Stephen Hawking—explaining the origin of the universe, say, or grappling with the existence of God—none has been more daunting than the simple act of talking. Afflicted with his ever-deteriorating motor neuron condition, he slowly lost the power of speech, communicating at first by raising his eyebrow to choose among letters on cards and later via a computer software that allows him to select from a bank of approximately 3,000 words. Early on, he could utter 15 of these words per minute; by 2005, however, his condition has grown so severe that he could only control his communications device with his cheeks, slowing him down to a word each minute.

One would hope that anyone so tragically robbed of the ability to communicate would rage against the silence, and Hawking certainly has, traveling the world, speaking at conferences, and appearing in commercials. But Israel, it seems, lies outside of the boundaries of the professor’s known universe: Hawking has written a short letter to Israeli president Shimon Peres, announcing his decision to withdraw from a conference, organized by Peres and scheduled to take place in Jerusalem in June, in protest of Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians.

Earlier this week, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine published a statement, (which after some confusion was reportedly) endorsed by Hawking, praising “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.”

It is always dismaying to see intelligent men and women commit themselves to a tactic that relies on stymieing dialogue and curbing the free exchange of ideas. It is particularly difficult to accept these views from Hawking. “The universe,” he wrote in his A Brief History of Time, “doesn’t allow perfection.” Why this realization doesn’t apply to Israel—a nation plagued by imperfections, to say the least—is destined to remain a cosmic mystery.

In the meantime, those of us wishing to take comfort in more meaningful and less equivocal words can turn to Ian McEwan. Accepting a literary prize in Jerusalem in 2011, the writer reflected on the inanity of exclusionary logic. “If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed,” he said. “It’s not great if everyone stops talking.”

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Royq says:

It is one more disturbing confirmation of the success of the anti-Israel campaign waged by The Guardian and the BBC, the two bastions of liberal opinion-making in Great Britain, and their ability to completely poison the political dialogue. Read Comment is Free Watch and you’ll be amazed at the assiduity of their efforts to disenfranchise Jews in the Middle East. It is a war, and they are winning the hearts and minds of their readership. That they have successfully done so in the case of a man whose significant work in physics is three decades behind him, and whose most notable scientific claim was demolished by Bronx boy, Leonard Susskind, is not terribly surprising. That he describes Hamas as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people is sad evidence of mental infirmity and the toll his disease has exacted on his mind.

    eadtuff says:

    Yes, how shocking that Israel treating human beings like animals would turn people against them! Just totally crazy that people would feel uncomfortable about supporting that.

    Also, nice try discrediting Hawking. What have you ever done with your life?

      Lawrence Jurrist says:

      What have you done? And Hawking is not God. It’s as valid to hold him to account as it is anyone else. America killed more people in Iraq and Afghanistan than all the Arab-Israeli wars combined. Nobody is boycotting America.

        eadtuff says:

        If America had been boycotted during segregation, I’d have been fine with that.

          Natan79 says:

          If Britain was boycotted today for having colonies, maybe it would let away. Not that tghis would bother you. You only hate Jews. Creep.

      Natan79 says:

      You support Hamas directly, because you enjoy that they murder Jews. Don’t try to hide who you are, dirty creep.

    hypnosifl says:

    “and whose most notable scientific claim was demolished by Bronx boy, Leonard Susskind”

    I think it would be news to Leonard Susskind that he “demolished” Hawking’s theory of black hole radiation–all of Susskind’s work on black holes assumes the existence of Hawking radiation.

      Royq says:

      I was was referring to the irretrievable loss of INFORMATION in the black hole, hippie, although Hawking might have cited you as an example to support his theory.

        hypnosifl says:

        I’m not sure where you’re getting your ideas, but Hawking’s most “notable claim” was not that information is lost, it was the claim of Hawking radiation emitted by black holes. Hawking did at one point make a bet that information was lost, but he never claimed to have any good physics-based argument to show that this was the case, he likes to make bets with physicists about questions that are completely unsettled, where physicists have only vague intuitions to guide them (there are some stories about this in “Black Holes and Time Warps”, an excellent book on black hole physics by his colleague Kip Thorne). Hawking also later came up with his own argument, distinct from Susskind’s, about why he now thought information was not lost, see here.

        I’m sure you probably have no real interest in physics and are just trying to bring it up to support your real passion of belittling people you disagree with politically, but for those who are interested in this subject, there are some interesting new arguments to suggest that maybe information can’t even make it past the event horizon in the first place, because of something they’re calling a “firewall” which forms at the horizon–see this post by physicist Sean Carroll which links to a bunch of summaries of the idea.

    hypnosifl says:

    “That he describes Hamas as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people is sad evidence of mental infirmity”

    What he actually said was “If Israel wants peace, it will have to talk to Hamas, like Britain did with the IRA. Hamas are the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinian people, and cannot be ignored”. I think the comparison with the IRA makes it clear that he was not making any sort of moral endorsement of Hamas, just making a practical point that negotiation would be more likely to lead to some resolution than a hardline stance, which is what turned out to be true with the IRA terrorists. Maybe I’m projecting my own views onto him, but I would suspect that he is thinking about the issue in utilitarian terms, where conventional moral notions of virtue and blame are considered irrelevant distractions from the real point, which is to get good results.

As far as I understand this, Hawking has disavowed the BCftUoP statement, claiming health issues instead. At least that’s according to one report I read earlier today.

    mishamb says:

    No. Unfortunately that info was wrong. The original story was accurate. It’s a boycott.

      Thanks. Sad.

        6cmzumquadrat says:

        Not nearly as sad as the occupation that continues to destroy the lives of countless human beings in the West Bank, nor the blockade that has put a stranglehold on the people of Gaza.

          Natan79 says:

          Not a word about killed jews at the hands of your Arab friends. Is it because you personally support murdering jews creep? I’d love to see your credit card statement and see how much you give to Hamas.

          6cmzumquadrat says:

          That’s the most incredible response I’ve ever read! You’re completely off your rocker.

          Do you recognize the occupation? Do you understand the brutality of the military, economic, and administrative oppression of Palestinians? Do you even have the empathy to recognize Palestinians as HUMAN BEINGS?

          The occupation is at the heart of this action. BDS is a non-violent tactic for ending the occupation. Those who support it are in solidarity with that non-violent action in the face of Israeli intransigence. I’m a Jew, a proud one, who supports this aim unreservedly because I believe both Jews and Palestinians deserve to enjoy basic civil and human rights. Your knee jerk reaction says more about you than you’re probably willing to admit.

          The occupation is the result of the failed Arab attempt to destroy Israel in 1967, and the inability of the now Palestinians, and wider Arab world to move forward and accept the idea of an independent Jewish state in Israel.

          The subsequent administration of the West Bank, is a legal action taken because UNSC #242 has yet to be fully implemented. The reality is, its been over 45 years since the end of the ‘war’ and there’s still fighting. Six days of fighting, 45 years of saying -we’re not done yet. Sorry, but that’s not Israeli mandated oppression.

          Indeed, RIGHT NOW, the Gaza Strip, is ruled by HAMAS – a blatantly racist organization, dedicated to the destruction of Israel, and the religiously sanctioned slaughter of its Jewish citizens. Remind me about that part where we recognize ‘human beings’?

          The Palestinian BDS movement fits right within that vein. The ultimate goal of the BDS movement is not some vision of a 2-state solution with Jew and Arab living peacefully side by side, but the continuation of the push to drive the Jews into the sea.

          You may or may not be a proud Jew, but you certainly are an ignorant one.

mishamb says:

I wish I could dismiss this news, but I can’t. I think Royq is right in that this shows the success of anti-Israel propaganda. Certainly, Israel will move on and survive with or without a visit from Hawking, but it’s the incremental nature of what’s happening that worries me. A boycott here, a biased news story there — none of it is catastrophic (I mean what’s this compared to a $400 million trade deal with China) which makes it easy to dismiss> But it also adds up over time.

I don’t think the Palestinians are particularly interested in peace, but I could be wrong. So the challenge for Israel is to balance an international community (whatever the hell that means) that demands peace against a “peace partner” uninterested in a compromise solution. It’s not an easy task for sure. But it seems Israel has taken a static approach to the problem by presenting no new ideas. That gives Israel’s opponents all the initiative and means Israel is always playing defense. That’s not a formula for long-term success. I’m afraid without a more active and imaginative strategy, we will see more of this type of things, and that over time it will start to hurt.

It would help if some high-profile people in the sciences, academia and politics stepped up to criticize Hawking as a way to let others know this isn’t acceptable or productive, but I’m not holding my breath

    Royq says:

    Amen, amen and amen again. I could not agree more with you, except to note that the British left is probably where the anti-Israel crowd has enjoyed its greatest popular successes. The established media, in the form of the government sponsored BBC, is firmly in the their camp, and The Guardian, which really burgeoned as an anti-American, anti-Israel voice during the war in Iraq, was led, among others, by Seumas Milne, who is reported to have boasted in his younger years about training with Palestinian militants. Not to say that the rest of Europe has been great.

    But you’re more important point–that Israel needs to be pro-active in combating the spread of what is at heart an anti-semitic movement, or at least one that draws its zeal from ancient hatreds while portraying itself as progressive. It lacks precisely that imaginative quality you appeal to. In fact, it’s essentially non-existent, a void the responsibility for which rests entirely with Netanyahu. He has been dangerously complacent, secure in his position in Israel, while the Palestinians have been outflanking him everywhere else in the world.

    “I don’t think the Palestinians are particularly interested in peace, but I could be wrong.”

    The problem is that the leaders of the PNM say enough things for western cameras that the world’s VSPs can cite as proof that the PNM seeks peace. Of course, whenever Netanyahu makes the same kind of statement, those same VSPs dismiss it as nothing more than propaganda based on other statements and on actions, the same type of statements and actions which are dismissed when coming from the PNM’s leaders. I don’t know that there is any solution to the VSPs’ determination that every PNM profession of interest in compromise is genuine/action opposing compromise is insignificant while every Israeli profession of interest in compromise is dismissed as propaganda/action against compromise shows their true colors.

      mishamb says:

      Agreed. But… Israeli leaders need to recognize the situation you describe and come up with ideas to counter it. Continuing the status quo while complaining that things are unfair isn’t going to work. Yes, the way Israel is treated is unfair, but as a I tell my kids: the world isn’t fair, get over it and move forward. Also, in the end, we aren’t trying to convince the VSP’s (not sure what exactly that means), but the average citizen, especially the average U.S. citizen.

        VSP – Very Serious Person. It’s an expression frequently used by Paul Krugman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Very_Serious_Person#In_popular_culture) to mock pundits and politicians who take “Serious” positions on US economic policy (like saying that austerity is needed to end the current employment slump), dismissing all evidence pointing in a direction contrary to their views. Such is the case with many people on the international stage with insisting that the leading figures in PNM, that is Palestinian National Movement, are serious about recognizing Jewish rights in the Middle East.

          mishamb says:

          Thanks. I was in the ballpark for VSP (context) and did figure out PNM. Take care.

          hypnosifl says:

          I don’t think Krugman would approve of the way you’re using his term in the context of Israel/Palestine, see this comment from his blog:

          ‘The truth is that like many liberal American Jews — and most American Jews are still liberal — I basically avoid thinking about where Israel is going. It seems obvious from here that the narrow-minded policies of the current government are basically a gradual, long-run form of national suicide — and that’s bad for Jews everywhere, not to mention the world. But I have other battles to fight, and to say anything to that effect is to bring yourself under intense attack from organized groups that try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism.’

Tom Wat says:

Take it at face value. Mr. Hawking’s true colors have appeared and isn’t as bright as we may have once thought! Israel doesn’t need to hear from another pro-palestinian sympathizer anyway – I say we’re better off without his liberal views!

    eadtuff says:

    “I thought this guy was smart, until he disagreed with me politically!”

      Natan79 says:

      I thought you were smart, until you showed to be a Jew-hating asshole.

    Natan79 says:

    I’m a liberal. Half of Israel is. Half of USA is. Don’t insult liberals. Insult Jew-haters.

      hypnosifl says:

      I’m a liberal too, and a secular Jew. Do you think anyone who agrees with Hawking about the boycott is a “Jew-hater”?

      hypnosifl says:

      I’m a liberal too, and a secular Jew. Do you think anyone who agrees with Hawking about the boycott is a “Jew-hater”?

Classic British asshole. I don’t care how smart he is. I bet he can Judenrein pretty easily.

Look ,Hawking is entitled to his opinion which he changed after someone else ‘expressed’ their opinion…..he was coming here, now he aint! Nothing has changed in this part of the world to make him change his mind in 24 hours, so obviously the Palestinian ear benders are damn good at their work and our governments lack of sensitivity is their biggest ally. The worst effects of this boycott however, go unreported, Israeli business’ suffers directly because many consumers particularly in Europe decide to ‘join’ the boycott and stay well away from anything to do with Israel. That fact and the criminally stupid Yair Lapid budget will speed up the recession which is already starting to bite here in earnest. This April was the worst month for the Israeli high street in years, ask in any shop if you dont believe me.

Used to feel bad for the guy. I boy he can say Judenrein though.

CygnusA81 says:

As horrible as this is, Hawking is just a symptom of a sick culture that now encompasses Britain. The media has done its job to completely dehumanize Israelis in which most of the British public has no compassion for the suffering Israeli have at the hands of Palestinian terrorists or ignore the evidence that the Palestinians have no interest in a final peace deal.

    hypnosifl says:

    Far more Israelis die in car accidents each year than die in terrorist incidents, and the morality of denying self-determination to millions of Palestinians (not to mention freedom of movement in their own neighborhoods) shouldn’t be based on whether the majority of them hold peaceful and sane political views. The world would be a much better place if more people would think of political issues in outcome-based utilitarian terms rather than in terms of dramatic narratives pitting villains against virtuous victims (as both sides in the Israel/Palestine debate tend to do).

      CygnusA81 says:

      You’re right more Israelis die in car accidents then terrorism because of, ta-da, The Security Fence! Now that the Palestinians can’t murder Israeli with impunity, Israelis can go back to lives and try to live a normal life. Its too bad that the Palestinians would rather fight a never ending war rather then live in peace with their neighbor, Israel.

      What stop the Palestinians declaring statehood in 47 or for that matter after losing the war in 48-67? I know you don’t have an answer to that. But I’m sure its somehow Israel’s fault in your mind.

        hypnosifl says:

        “You’re right more Israelis die in car accidents then terrorism because of, ta-da, The Security Fence! ”

        I have no objection to the Security Fence, but there’s no reason it should be incompatible with granting the Palestians control over their own territories (unilaterally if they won’t accept regionable negotiated terms, although the Israelis have not been very “reasonable” since the 90s). And looking at the car accident statistics here, the number of annual deaths was actually much lower than I would have imagined–only 298 in 2012, 3.7 per 100,000 people! Israelis are very safe drivers apparently, so I assumed too much in my statement. A better example would be something like heart attacks, where the rate is 46.4 per 100,000 people, which would work out to a little over 3500 a year. That’s far more than the number killed or even injured in terrorist attacks in the average year, or even in the most deadly years of the second infatada–see the statistics here, where throughout the 90s the number killed per year never exceeded 120 (456 injured), and the most recent peak was in 2002 when it reached 484 (over 2000 injured). Of course every death and injury due to terrorism is tragic (and the same goes for every death due to a heart attack), but the point is that from a utilitarian perspective these numbers don’t justify the lack of freedom and punishing conditions which Israel places on millions of Palestinians.

        What stop the Palestinians declaring statehood in 47 or for that matter after losing the war in 48-67? I know you don’t have an answer to that. But I’m sure its somehow Israel’s fault in your mind.

        It seems you didn’t read (or didn’t understand) the part of my post where I advocated thinking about political issues in purely utilitarian terms, and not “in terms of dramatic narratives pitting villains against virtuous victims”, like you are doing in the above sentence. For me, the case for granting the Palestinians freedom has nothing to do with seeing them as particular virtuous, or from caring one iota about whose “fault” the current morass is. Note that I specifically said “and the morality of denying self-determination to millions of Palestinians shouldn’t be based on whether the majority of them hold peaceful and sane political views“, which to an observant reader might suggest that I don’t in fact think most Palestinians hold peaceful and sane political views–a large percentage of them are nutty religious zealouts, but that doesn’t give them any less of a right to self-determination than any other people.

    hypnosifl says:

    Far more Israelis die in car accidents each year than die in terrorist incidents, and the morality of denying self-determination to millions of Palestinians (not to mention freedom of movement in their own neighborhoods) shouldn’t be based on whether the majority of them hold peaceful and sane political views. The world would be a much better place if more people would think of political issues in outcome-based utilitarian terms rather than in terms of dramatic narratives pitting villains against virtuous victims (as both sides in the Israel/Palestine debate tend to do).

Larrysturn says:

I believe the Professor has earned the right to make his own decision. I don’t believe in BDS and believe that a number of things on its website; http://www.bdsmovement.net/ go well beyond a heart felt call for equality to enfranchise the termination of the State of Israel. It is important to allow the words “resistance is futile,” to be overcome on behalf of the advancement of freedom. The State of Israel is imperfect and needs to continue to work to walk the difficult path to peace and allow two peoples to live in two free and secure states.

altershmalter says:

Yo. Steve-o…you wouldn’t be able to communicate if it were not for the made-in-Israel processor in your equipment…boycott that!

Academic boycotts of Jews and Israelis: Historical Parallels

http://www.telaviv1.org.il/2013/04/academic-boycotts-of-jews-and-israelis.html

It rankles, but I’d rather have Facebook spend a billion dollars buying an Israeli company.

TJtruthandjustice says:

This is worth pointing out:

“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…”

~ Noam Sheizaf, 972 Magazine, May 8, 2013

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Stephen Hawking Joins Academic Boycott

The black hole of exclusionary logic

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