The decision of science superstar Stephen Hawking to join in the boycott of Israel was a major coup for those working to delegitimize the Jewish state. Hawking’s reputation as a man of reason and a media magnet gave a boost to a movement whose triumphs to date have been confined to figures dwelling in the fever swamps of the far left or right. While many Western European intellectuals have bought into the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) appeal, Hawking’s celebrity is such that he may help anti-Israel activists gain traction in the United States where they have had little success in getting mainstream attention or support.
But there is another downside to Hawking’s move. Rather than stiffen the resolve of the pro-Israel community to stand up against the economic war against the Jewish state, seeing a big name join the crowd piling on in this fashion has the effect of discouraging some and causing others to rationalize the boycotters. That’s the upshot of a couple of posts on the subject over at the Open Zion blog at the Daily Beast where left-wing columnists saying the right reaction to the boycott is to agree with its supporters that Israel is in the wrong. Rather than to fight a boycott that even some of them will admit is tainted by anti-Semitism, they council surrender to it. Thus, although adding Hawking to the roster of those who hypocritically and wrongly seek to ostracize Israel, perhaps the most important aspect of this is the way it could lead some who ought to know better to make their peace with the boycott instead of treating it as just another instance of Jew-hatred.
Let’s understand straight off that those, such as Beast columnist Mathew Kalman, who “broke” the story of Hawking’s joining the boycott in Britain’s Guardian, and who believes the scientist can’t be criticized for this move, are wrong.
Kalman took some abuse on the Internet from supporters of Israel when Cambridge University initially denied his report before confirming it. But while he’s entitled have a laugh at the expense of those who called him a liar about this, what he really gets wrong is the nature of this event. Joining the boycott of Israel isn’t a gesture of a disillusioned friend. It’s an action that places someone amid the ranks of those working not to “reform” policies but who deny Israel’s right to exist or to defend itself.
What I’d like to know—apart from whether any of my mealy-mouthed Twitter critics are going to retract their insults—is what effect Hawking’s decision will have on Israel’s leaders. Will they hunker down behind a security wall of denial, or will someone, somewhere in Jerusalem ask why a man of Hawking’s standing, who has visited Israel four times in the past and was willing to come again despite his age and ill-health, has become so alienated, so quickly, from a country he previously admired so much?
What’s wrong here is that the BDS movement wishes to deny Israel the same rights of sovereign existence and self-defense that no one would think to deny another people. It singles out democratic Israel for special treatment while ignoring genuine humanitarian crises and horrific tyrannies. There is a word for such treatment and it is prejudice and such bias against Jews is called anti-Semitism, which is something that no one in the Jewish community or decent society should be willing to excuse. Hawkings, like everyone else who buys into the lies about Israel, deserves to be treated as having made common cause with Jew-haters, not a wise man that deserves a hearing.
What’s more, attempts to rationalize Hawking’s position such as Kalman’s is to believe that Israel has done something in recent years that merits pariah status is to ignore everything that has happened in the last 20 years of peace processing whereby Israel has invited the PLO into the West Bank, given up territory, removed settlements, withdrawn from Gaza and made three separate offers of a Palestinian state in 2000, 2001 and 2008, only to be refused each time and answered with more terrorism and intransigence. In order to interpret the events of this period in such a manner as to conclude that Israel must be punished and the Palestinians must be rewarded you have to either be willfully ignorant or prejudiced. In either case, such a conclusion does not exactly measure up to what is generally considered the scientific method of discovering the truth.
Israel isn’t perfect but responsibility for the lack of peace and the continuing plight of the Palestinians rests with their leaders who have refused peace. Until their political culture changes and makes it possible for them to recognize the legitimacy of Israel, no matter where its borders are drawn, the end of the conflict is not in sight.
Agreeing with Kalman is another writer for the Beast, British activist Hannah Weisfeld, who says the proper response to Hawking’s statement, is to agree with him about Israel’s wrongdoing and pressure it to treat the Palestinians better. Weisfeld, who runs a group that seems to be a clone of America’s J Street, takes a fatalistic view about anti-Israel incitement, which she says is the cause célèbre of our time even though human rights violations elsewhere are far more serious. Like her blog’s editor, Peter Beinart, she seems to think the anti-Semitic tone of many BDS supporters doesn’t make the Palestinians any less sympathetic. Weisfeld seems to take the point of view that there’s no use being mad about Hawking or other boycotters. Rather than fight back, she seems to be telling us its time for Israel and its friends to surrender to foreign blackmail.
But the right response to Hawking is not agreement with his prejudicial behavior that would isolate those who are responsible for some of the technology that makes it possible for him to function despite his illness as well as scientists that are working for its cure.
Weisfeld is right that fashionable leftist opinion has rejected Israel but thinking people should answer distortions and lies with truth, not appeasement. Hawking’s fans must accept the fact that he has joined the ranks of the haters and classify him as such. Doing so requires courage that many who dwell in liberal strongholds or in academia lack. But that will not excuse their cowardice if they fail to speak up against this monstrous and fundamentally anti-Semitic movement against Israel.