Prior to the cancelation of his academic talk in Israel, it might have been argued that his visits to Iran and China reflected not support for the regimes but rather a neutral approach to academics, or a refusal to participate in academic boycotts. No longer can this justification work. The only possible justification for distinguishing between Israel on the one hand and Iran and China on the other hand would be if Israel’s actions were worse than those of Iran and China. Only a knave or a fool would believe that to be so. Israel’s academies are among the most open, diverse and free in the world. Israeli universities have affirmative action programs for Palestinians and other minorities. Political dissenters receive tenure and thrive at Israeli universities.
The very concept of an Iranian university is an oxymoron. There are no free and open places of learning in that repressive theocracy. Dissenters are not given tenure; they are murdered, after first being tortured. Blasphemy, which is broadly defined, is punished. Gays are not only excluded from Iranian universities, but are imprisoned and killed. Women are oppressed. Baha’is are persecuted and killed. There is no freedom in Iran—a country that is seeking to develop nuclear weapons so that they can wipe the State of Israel off the map.
Yet Iran is a country that Stephen Hawking visited. He did not boycott that Islamic country. He limited his boycott to the democratic nation state of the Jewish people.
Not only did Steven Hawking visit China, he praised it effusively. Although Chinese universities are considerably better than Iran’s, there is no real freedom to criticize the government or the Communist party. The people who brought us Tiananmen Square still hold positions of authority in China. Dissidents are persecuted. There is no semblance of fair trial. Censorship reigns.
Yet Stephen Hawking did not boycott China. He boycotted only Israel – the only country of these three with real academic freedom and the only country where people with disabilities are fully-integrated, first-class citizens of society. In China, many disabled children are aborted due to the country’s one-child policy. In Iran many disabled people are kept hidden within families because of prevalent cultural taboos.
Israeli universities have an unmatched record of developing devices that assist people with disabilities in their daily tasks. Ironically, Israeli universities have developed the very microchips that allow people suffering from motor neurone disease, like Stephen Hawking, to communicate. I do not know why Hawking, whose intellectual accomplishments are beyond reproach, uses these devices now to call for the boycott of the very country that enables to him to communicate in the first place. But we have long ago learned that people who are brilliant in some areas may be utter fools in other areas.
The burden is now on Steven Hawking to justify on the face of what looks like a double standard, hypocrisy and bigotry. If Israel were not the nation state of the Jewish people, I do not believe Hawking would participate in a boycott against it. Has he stood up for the right of the Chechnyas against Russia? Has he championed the rights of the Armenians against Turkey? Did he protest America’s policies in Afghanistan when he accepted the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama? Was he on the forefront of opposing Britain’s repressive actions against those seeking independence for Ireland? I do not remember hearing his voice when genocides were being committed in Rwanda, Darfur, and Cambodia. But now suddenly, having accepted an invitation to participate in an academic conference sponsored by the peace-loving President of Israel, Shimon Peres, Hawking has become the most famous and visible face of an academic boycott directed at the Middle East’s only democracy and only country where academic freedom prevails.
Nor can Hawking’s argue that his joining of the academic and cultural boycott against Israel is simply a demonstration of his disapproval of Israel’s presence in the West Bank. The boycott movement that he joined opposes the very existence of the state of Israel and applies only to Jewish citizens of Israel, not to its Arab citizens.
J’accuse Stephen Hawking of bigotry. Let him defend his actions in the court of public opinion. I don’t think he will be able to.
I don’t know whether Hawking is a fool or a knave. Perhaps he is simply an ignoramus who didn’t bother to learn the fact at first hand and simply followed the bigoted British academic crowd in lemming like fashion. Let him explain. Let him try to justify but do not allow him to remain silent in the face of these serious accusations of double standard, hypocrisy and bigotry.
For shame Stephen Hawking. History will not remember you kindly for your foolish foray into the oldest of bigotries.