Hypocrite Stephen Hawking Supports Academic Boycott of Israel

by Nathan Harden - Fix Editor on May 9, 2013

The famous physicist Stephen Hawking is the latest high-profile academic to back the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” (BDS) movement. He has pulled out of an academic conference in Israel. In a letter to Israeli president Shimon Peres, Hawking says his decision to back out of the conference is a result of “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”

According to The Guardian, Hawking has been under pressure from organizers of the Israeli boycott:

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.

It’s remarkable how so many academics who have built their careers on the premise that “academic freedom” must be protected and respected will simply toss that idea out the window when it comes to Israel.

Has not the Palestinian political regime also done things that Hawking disagrees with? Surely it has. Why does Hawking still engage with “Palestinian colleagues,” in that case. Why not boycott them as well?

Come to think of it–I’ll bet there are plenty of political policies in the British government that Hawking disagrees with. (The UK’s participation in the Iraq War perhaps?) Why then doesn’t Stephen Hawking boycott himself, since he is part of the UK and he obviously believes that scholars from nations whose politics he dislikes should be shunned and silenced.

Why does Hawking single out Israel as the one place in the world where politics justifies an academic boycott?

Here’s a bit of irony: Turns out, the microprocessor Hawking uses to run is famous computer-assisted speech program was developed, in part, by a team of Israeli scientists working for Intel. Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israeli legal advocacy group Shurat HaDin suggested that perhaps, in the interest of consistency, Hawking should boycott his own voice.

“Hawking’s decision to join the boycott of Israel is quite hypocritical for an individual who prides himself on his whole intellectual accomplishment. His whole computer-based communications system runs on a chip designed by Israel’s Intel team. I suggest if he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet,” said Darshan-Leitner.

Here’s the fundamental question: Should academic discourse, free inquiry, and the exchange of ideas be subject to political suppression? Should academics avoid talking to scholars who happen to be Israeli? Apparently, Hawking thinks so because that is, in effect, what is happening here.

When one’s disagreement with a nation’s political regime justifies the shunning and boycott of that nation’s scientists and scholars, we are on dangerous ground. Hawking and other politically liberal scholars who participate in the academic boycott of Israel are hypocrites. They are quick to profess devotion to tolerance and academic freedom, but they don’t live up to those ideals–not when it comes to Israel, anyway.

If it is has become acceptable to support an academic boycott of an entire nationality (all Israelis), we aren’t far off from a future in which it will be acceptable to back an academic boycott of an entire ethnicity (all Jews).

Liberals who oppose the politics of Israel should think very hard before they decide to support an academic boycott of Israel. To do so makes a mockery of the very idea of academic freedom.

Nathan Harden is editor of The College Fix and author of SEX & GOD AT YALE: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad

Follow Nathan on Facebook /  Twitter:@NathanHarden

(Image by Doug Wheller  / Wikimedia Commons)

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  • Renatius Barton

    The latest is that Hawking is in poor health and for that reason will not travel to Israel. Maybe some one or group spread the rumor simply to take advantage of the situation?

    Who knows for sure?

  • Ralph Adamo

    The core reason that Hawking thinks it’s appropriate to boycott Israel is a very simple one. Yes, Hawking is obviously a hypocrite because he uses Israeli technology, that doesn’t address the question: “Why?” However, it does provide a clue to the real answer. And that answer can be found in George Gilder’s esteemed book, “The Israel Test.” Gilder’s book posits that the real hatred against Israel has to do with envy of the achievements of Israel and Jews. It’s as simple as that. And in Hawking’s case, Gilder’s idea fits with absolute precision and explains exactly WHY Hawking flunks the Israel Test. For example, Hawking owes his entire career to the work of a Jewish scientist, Jacob Bekenstein, who was the real brains behind the ideas that Hawking piggybacked onto. Hawking is envious of the enormous achievements of Jewish scientists and he knows that his work pales by comparison. Many Israelis and Jews have won Nobel prizes for their work in science (and many other areas as well), but Hawking hasn’t won any such award because he hasn’t really developed anything of value that others have not already done before him. The real truth is that Hawking wouldn’t even be discussed at all today if not for his severe disabilities. His disabilities attract sympathy from the public and they call him “brilliant” and a “genius,” even though those terms don’t apply at all to him. He will forever remain the shadow of the superior Israeli and Jewish scientists and Hawking knows that fact all too well. However, by boycotting Israel, he gets some free publicity and becomes “important” as a media personality, even though, as a scientist, he’s accomplished little of value. That provides him with some degree of comfort to assuage his deep sense of inferiority.

    • RalphAdamoNewOrleans

      These remarks are not by the Ralph Adamo who lives in New Orleans.

    • Thomas Zell

      I’m pretty sure that it has more to do with the illegal occupations oppressive policies against the native Palestinians. There is no reason for anyone to be envious of murderers and thieves. When academics boycotted the nazi party, they did so because of evil government policies, not because they were envious of German achievements.