| Five reasons why Hawking is right to boycott Israel!

Five reasons why Hawking is right to boycott Israel ~ , Al Jazeera.

Hawking should be commended for pulling out of an Israeli conference as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

British cosmologist Stephen Hawking had been due to speak at a high-profile conference in June organised by Israeli President Shimon Peres [AP]
As announced by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) and subsequently covered by The GuardianReuters and others, world-renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Professor Stephen Hawking has decided to heed the Palestinian call for boycott, and pull out of an Israeli conference hosted by President Shimon Peres in June. After initial confusionthis was confirmed – Hawking is staying away on political grounds.

Here are five reasons why Professor Hawking is right to boycott:

5. Whitewashing apartheid 

The Israeli government and various lobby groups use events such as the “Presidential Conference” to whitewash Israel’s crimes past and present, a tactic sometimes referred to as “rebranding”. As a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official put it after the 2009 Gaza massacre, it is the kind of approach that means sending “well-known novelists and writers overseas, theatre companies, [and] exhibits” in order to “show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war”. “Brand Israel” is all about creating a positive image for a country that is the target of human rights campaigners the world over – as if technological innovations or high-profile conferences can hide the reality of occupation and ethnic cleansing.

4. Shimon Peres 

Despite his reputation in the West as a “dove”, Peres’ career to date includes war crimes in Lebanon,support for collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza, and, in private discussions, incitementagainst non-Jewish citizens. Anyone would do well to avoid a conference hosted by such a hypocrite. Simply not being Ariel Sharon does not really cut it; Peres should be scheduled for a trip to The Hague, not welcoming foreign dignitaries and celebrities.

3. Boycott is not incompatible with ‘dialogue’ 

Contrary to the rhetoric of Israeli officials and sympathisers, boycott is not contrary to dialogue. Hawking’s decision, for example, will mean people are discussing Israeli policies and strategies for ending occupation. That is not atypical – BDS initiatives often encourage a meaningful exchange of views and perspectives. However, some people abuse the concept of dialogue to defend an asymmetrical status quo, leaving intact a colonial power dynamic where, in the words of South African poet James Matthews, “the oppressor sits seared with his spoils/with no desire to share equality/leaving the oppressed seeking warmth/at the cold fire of/Dialogue”. Boycott has nothing to do with having, or not having, conversations – it is about accountability for, and opposing, basic violations of a people’s rights. Confronting and resisting the reality of Israeli apartheid begets a dialogue that is fully realised in the context of equality and decolonisation.

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2. Impunity and accountability 

The boycott is grounded firmly in the well documented facts of Israeli policies. The US State Department speaks of “institutional discrimination” faced by Palestinian citizens, while Human Rights Watch says Israel maintains a “two-tier system” in the West Bank. From the “discriminatory” control and distribution of water resources (Amnesty International) to the “forced transfer of the native population” (European Union), it is no wonder that the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination hasreported Israel as violating prohibitions against “racial segregation and apartheid”.

Illegal settlements are used to colonise the West Bank, Palestinians in Gaza are blockaded and bombed, Palestinians in East Jerusalem have their homes demolished – and all the while, of course, expelled Palestinian refugees just a few miles from their properties are still prevented from returning home on the basis they are not Jews. And note that the “But what about China/Myanmar/Syria etc” line misses the point (as well as placing Israel in some rather interesting company). A boycott is atactic, advisable in some contexts, and not in others. It is not about a scale of injustice or wrongdoing. It is about a strategy targeting systematic human rights abuses and breaches of international law, called for by the colonised. Which brings us to…

1. The Palestinian call for solidarity 

Palestinians suffering under Israeli apartheid are calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a strategy in the realisation of their basic rights, a fact that many Zionists choose to ignore when attacking boycott campaigns. The Palestinian civil society call for BDS was officially launched on July 9 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the illegality of Israel’s Separation Wall. Signatories to the BDS call come from representatives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Palestinian refugees. Since then, growing numbers of people in the likes of academia, the arts world, trade unions and faith communities have answered the BDS call with initiatives that put the focus firmly on Israel’s routine violations of international law and ending complicity in these crimes. Professor Hawking is to be commended for seeking the advice of Palestinian academics, and heeding their request for international solidarity in a decades-long struggle for freedom and justice.

Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. He is a graduate of Cambridge University.

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“I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank. However, 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.” 

~ Prof. Stephen Hawking,
Letter to Shimon Peres, Israeli President, 3 May, 2013.

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| BDS: Stephen Hawking joins academic boycott of Israel!

Stephen Hawking joins academic boycott of Israel ~ Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem, The Guardian.

Physicist pulls out of conference hosted by president Shimon Peres in protest at treatment of Palestinians.

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 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.

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.

However, 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.”

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.”

The office of President Peres, which has not yet announced Hawking’s withdrawal, did not respond to requests for comment. Hawking’s name has been removed from the speakers listed on the official website.

Stephen Hawking

A statement published with Stephen Hawking’s approval said his withdrawal was based on advice from academic contacts in Palestine. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA
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