Hannah Weisfeld on Stephen Hawking

I found Hannah Weisfeld’s recent post, ‘Hawking’s Israel boycott in its UK context’ curiously elusive.  The first paragraph mostly consists of a series of factual statements – with no clue as to whether the author approves of his decision to pull out of the Presidential Conference or not.  The exception is the very opening sentence in which Weisfeld introduces Hawking in admiring, warm – perhaps even gushing – terms, while still withholding judgment on his boycott stance.

Stephen Hawking, one of the UK’s most brilliant minds, and a man revered by much of the British population for his indefatigable ability to navigate the challenges that life has thrown at him, announced yesterday that he would not be attending the 5th Presidential Conference in Israel this coming June.

In the second paragraph Weisfeld appears to condemn the notion of an academic boycott pretty unequivocally.   However she also starts to map out a kind of sliding scale, making it clear that some boycotts are worse than others.  I don’t actually disagree with her suggestion that academic boycotts are more objectionable than commercial ones, or that the Moti Cristal case was particularly appalling, even by the usual standards of academic boycott. But I feel the Israeli wine is sacrificed a bit too readily, and that the Cristal case is almost being used to make less extreme examples of academic boycott more acceptable, more palatable.

Weisfeld goes on to insist that Hawking is not one of the really bad boycotters, because he does not deny Israel’s right to exist, and then goes into gush mode again, in order to assert that he can certainly distinguish between political extremism and political protest:

It would be something of an insult to his amazing mind to suggest he lacks those critical faculties.

I don’t see why it would be an insult.  He is a brilliant scientist, not a brilliant scholar of history or politics – and even if he were, that wouldn’t mean we all had to agree with his moral or political views.

Next Weisfeld moves to the UCU case, describing the damning way in which that case was dismissed.  I perhaps couldn’t blame Weisfeld for assuming the case was a very bad one (although obviously I’d disagree with her) based on a final ruling whose tone certainly shocked me, but I am in fact not completely sure what she thought of the verdict.  I think her point is more to argue that opponents of the boycott need to change their tactics on purely pragmatic grounds.

It seems we need some new ground rules if we are to win the case for Israel in the public arena.

First, it is clear that we need to challenge the assumption that anyone who calls for, or supports, any form of boycott is beyond the pale. We can debate, disagree with tactics, call out anti-Semitism when it is clearly there, but we have to accept that people have a right to employ a set of tools we do not agree with. It is that simple.

Although this isn’t simply a straw man argument – I’m sure there are people who lump all boycotters together – there’s something frustrating to me about her rhetoric.  For example, she agrees that it is reasonable to ‘call out anti-Semitism when it is clearly there’.  But one might think a campaign had antisemitic effects or causes without necessarily thinking all who supported it were, personally, antisemitic.  And the UCU tribunal, in part, was very much about calling out antisemitism when it was clearly there – as in the case of Bongani Masuku.  Moving the goal posts in order to focus on the most glaring cases of antisemitism and admit defeat on softer examples seems to be Weisfeld’s strategy – but I’m not sure that works.

Weisfeld goes on remind the reader that the Palestinian cause is ‘the cause célèbre of our time.’

It might well be the case that there is something sinister about those who have been involved in turning it into the zeitgeist of our times. But no amount of hasbarah, campaigning, showing the “positive contribution of Israel in the world” is going to change that.

I think perhaps I agree that arguments invoking Israel’s contribution to, say, technology aren’t the best answer to boycotters, rather as I don’t think appeals to Hawking’s status as a scientist can be used to lend him moral authority.  However if the boycott campaign has sinister elements, then they should be exposed – that’s not hasbara.

Here’s her conclusion.

John Humphrys, who is probably Britain’s most well known radio voice and who presents the inimitable Today Programme on Radio 4, asked this morning: “Isn’t it the case that the boycott has succeeded in drawing attention to the plight of Palestinian people?” If he is right, and the world is watching, they should also see serious efforts on the part of Israel and those who count themselves as Israel’s supporters worldwide, doing all that is in their power to change the situation. Surely that would be the best reaction of supporters of Israel in the UK to the latest boycott drama?

Even if the boycott has succeeded in drawing attention to the plight of the Palestinian people that doesn’t make it right in itself as a strategy, and (although there’s no excuse for some of the more vicious comments Hawking has attracted) opponents of the boycott should continue to try to make their voices heard.  Weisfeld seems to shift her position from one in which the boycott is seen as a painful issue – ‘the stakes are incredibly high’ as she puts it towards the beginning of her piece – to a lost cause, to be swiftly abandoned if anything is to be salvaged for Israel and its supporters.  Going back to John Humphreys’ point – in my case the biggest impact of the boycott was in fact not to draw my attention to the plight of the Palestinian people (though I’ve learnt more about that too) but to make me more alert to the ways antisemitism manifests itself.

64 Responses to “Hannah Weisfeld on Stephen Hawking”

  1. David Hirsh Says:

    Great piece Sarah. Weisfield seems to be unwilling to recognise the threat that is a campaign to exclude Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global community. And she seems unaware of the evidence and argument which was presented, and ignored, in the fraser case. Perhaps it boils down to an unwillingness to face up to the reality of contemporary antisemitism. It isn’t a pleasant reality to face up to. Facing up to it doesn’t make you popular, influential or successful.

  2. David Hirsh Says:

    There is a huge reluctance amongst many antiracist Jews to see antisemitism; to understand it; to sniff it; to oppose it. They know, without knowing, that to do so puts them outside of the intellectual and political world in which they live. They know, without knowing, that to see, understand, sniff or oppose antisemitism is considered vulgar, selfish, dishonest, dishonourable, disgraceful.

  3. zaccaerdydd Says:

    A good analysis, Sarah, thank you. She (sometimes) knows when to concede to her opponent (key to any successful strategy), but she doesn’t seem to know for what/when to fight. To persuade Anglo-Jews, she is going to have to be more red-blooded than this. While I think the Fraser trial was misguided (but easy to say in hindsight), that didn’t mean there wasn’t plentiful evidence which needed to analysed and presented in some form. Weisfeld seems, as you say, uninterested or uninformed about that. She is in headmistress lecture mode, and a bit too prone to gush, whether for Hawking or a High Up in the British Civil Service. But she is/should be trying to persuade Anglo-Jews to a cause worth fighting for her way.

    • David Hirsh Says:

      Z, why do you think the Fraser case was misguided?

      Do you think that Fraser’s claim that there was a thickening culture of antisemitism in the union was wrong?

      Or do you think that the Equality Act doesn’t protect a Jew from such an institutional antisemitism?

      Or do you think that the zeitgeist is such that he ought to have known that a tribunal in today’s Britain would have been unlikely to understand the evidence of antisemitism put before it by 34 witnesses?

      • zaccaerdydd Says:

        [Or do you think that the zeitgeist is such that he ought to have known that a tribunal in today’s Britain would have been unlikely to understand the evidence of antisemitism put before it by 34 witnesses?]

        I suppose in some ways this was closer to the truth. I just thought (and some of the evidence I saw afterwards was more substantial than I had thought heretofore) that the whole matter was too subtle for bringing before a court of law. I also think that bringing a prosecution is much harder than mounting a defence, and the quality of evidence must be, in a sense, more than adequate. I also thought that it wasn’t helped by some witnesses being perhaps less than reliable e.g. that chap who said he was targeted for wearing a kippah, something not easily demonstrated and too easy to shoot down.

        And numbers of witnesses is not necessarily the issue unless they are all testifying to precisely the same thing. For something like a class action (and this was arguably more like that, so far as I am any judge), the evidence has to be consistently above what is needed.

        Look, maybe I am wrong. I just had a gut feeling that approaching the issue this way was a mistake. While I can be quite temperamental and hot-tempered, I am really quite a cautious fellow. ‘Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of Hosts’ and ‘Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court etc’, which I interpret as a little inversely as a dictum about being wary of taking your adversary to court, unless you absolutely have no other choice. And ‘Don’t begin until you count the cost’.

        Simple-minded advice, perhaps, for a simple-minded person. But you don’t undertake a battle unless you really are near certain to win and/or you really have no choice.

        I’m sorry I don’t have a more complicated answer than that. Also Ronnie’s being the Friends of Israel meant that he wasn’t the best person to put bring the case. Not because UCU’s anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism can’t be antisemitic, but because someone who wasn’t so politically affiliated would have been far less easy to dismiss as acting merely politically or disingenously. I appreciate that may have meant no one might have been willing to bring the case, but I think I am bringing my limited tactical awareness to play on the issue, regardless of the merits of the case in absolute moral terms (and I am hopeless at chess or game strategy: I usually rely on maxims like the above), But courts of law are rarely about absolute morality, and rarely on such fine issues.

      • zaccaerdydd Says:

        I have no doubt that UCU exhibited both paleo- and neo-antisemitism. And I think Weisfeld is wrong to act so high and above it all (especially if she has any intention to win hearts and minds). And perhaps I am guilty of internalizing an antisemitic narrative, whereby I just assume that Jews will have to produce evidence of a quality and consistency above others. It that is the case, whichever way you look at it, that sucks.

        • zaccaerdydd Says:

          This isn’t meant to reduce matters to a personal level, but my view of the law and taking matters to it is inevitably coloured by my personal experience. A private surgeon screwed up my left ankle, not long before I began my PhD. I had the sh– kicked out of me for several years trying to get anything done about it, and all I have had to go on is the hope that, in time, I will be vindicated, I will have justice, though all evidence points to the contrary. But it does not appear to be a battle I can win by direct confrontation. I hope and pray, when the time is right, when the right set of circumstances meet, when I meet the people who can actually help me, then I will strike/seize the opportunity. Perhaps this the wrong approach, but I am not sure what else I can do.

  4. Jonathan Hoffman Says:

    You missed this gem:

    “….it is possible that the harder we find the criticism to hear the more likely we are to call it out as anti-Semitic, and this is behavior that we have to change. The findings of the National Jewish Student Survey conducted in 2011 found that respondents who are “very positive” about Israel are more likely to have experienced anti-Semitism than those who are “fairly positive” (48 percent compared with 37 percent respectively).”

    Understand what Weisfeld is saying. She is saying that pro-Israel students use the accusation of antisemitism in bad faith. That they do it to respond to legitimate criticism of Israel “and this is behaviour we have to change”. That they are not responding to genuine antisemitism, but just to legitimate criticism of Israel.

    This is the same accusation the Fraser Tribunal made against Ronnie. It’s called the ‘Livingstone Formulation’. And it’s despicable.


    • Sarah AB Says:

      Yes. Perhaps there’s more than one factor at work, but it seems possible that students who are more pro-Israel are more likely to debate such issues, either in the real or virtual world, and this may very well expose them to more antisemitism.

    • zaccaerdydd Says:

      [ She is saying that pro-Israel students use the accusation of antisemitism in bad faith.]

      No, she is suggesting that perhaps the more/most pro-Israel advocates invite it. And given some arguments are outrageous, sometimes I have less/little sympathy.

      Caroline Glick described her the audience of her last debate as antisemitic. Well, perhaps they do too readily believe the worst of Israel. But she didn’t help her case by her presentation. She sneered, raised her voice. Passion in pursuit of a logical argument may persuade. Compared to Daniel Levy’s case (and he promotes the Geneva Accord, I believe, so would describe himself as liberal Zionist, the kind of person Ben White et al. detest), delivered calmly, forensically, with tons of data, she was completely outclassed.

      Sometimes she comes up with some good things. But she is too used to preaching to the choir. The UK is not the US. Here it is an uphill struggle. Audiences expect far more. And you always have to start from where your audience begins. You cannot treat them as Israel 65 ZF Alabina fans (and I am a huge Ishtar-Alabina fan). They will resent it if you do.

      That is why/one reason, I think, (mostly) non-Jewish Jewish, or non-Jewish cultural Christians or Muslims of the BDS crowd have an advantage: statistically they are more likely to be speaking to more people like themselves, or with more in common than e.g. the average ZFer.

      They know/can anticipate their audience, or have a better idea of their starting position and/or prejudices/assumptions. It all helps. If you have no idea of what your audience is or is not prepared to accept, you cannot hope to persuade them. You have to know/guess their red-lines, and work within them.

      • Jonathan Hoffman Says:

        [she is suggesting that perhaps the more/most pro-Israel advocates invite it]

        No, you are saying that.

        She is saying that pro-Israel students use the accusation of antisemitism in bad faith.

        • zaccaerdydd Says:

          [she is suggesting that perhaps the more/most pro-Israel advocates invite it]

          ‘No, you are saying that. She is saying that pro-Israel students use the accusation of antisemitism in bad faith.’

          Perhaps she is, and I didn’t read her rightly.

          Either way, I read her as meaning that the most pro-Israel activists, by which I suspect she means something like those who use e.g. the most right-wing arguments, either invite/get the more/most extreme/reactionary/right-wing responses or, as you say, they read those responses as antisemitic, and I agree she probably implies it is more likely incorrectly, than for what she calls ‘fairly pro-Israel’.

          In a sense, I agree. I’ve seen such dismiss an argument as antisemitic without really getting to grips with its substance. Even if it is neo-antisemitic (for these instances are less likely to be paleo- or classically antisemitic), it still sometimes/often/mostly needs to be taken apart, calmly and rationally.

          And the number rule: if you want to stress the sins of the other side, you have to confess those of your own. It’s about working within your audience’s red lines.

          I think it I think that if you use, say, some of e.g. Caroline Glick’s points (and some of them are good), without some kind of qualification e.g. Zionist Jews did commit acts of expulsion/ethnic cleansing i.e. a mixture of Daniel Levy/Caroline Glick, you’re more likely to get an extreme reaction you can’t handle. It’s much better to get to grips with a person’s argument than dismiss it as antisemitic unless the guy is saying something like ‘All Jews are bloodsuckers’ (and sometimes one should argue even then).

          Caroline Glick completely failed to persuade her audience, whereas as Daniel Levy succeeded. Instead of asking where she went wrong, what could she learn about her argumentation from this, she dismissed them as antisemitic. My point is, even if they were, they were not antisemitic like the Nazis of the 1930s. Neo-antisemitism is much more subtle, and requires much more work and subtlety in response. And often, in my view, the more/most right-wing pro-Israel advocates are unable to take it apart in a way which persuades a neutral or audience uninformed a priori. They’re good for preaching to the choir, but not the unconverted.

      • Sarah AB Says:

        “That is why/one reason, I think, (mostly) non-Jewish Jewish, or non-Jewish cultural Christians or Muslims of the BDS crowd have an advantage: statistically they are more likely to be speaking to more people like themselves, or with more in common than e.g. the average ZFer.”

        Responding to that – and also to your comment to Jonathan, below – I’d like to agree from my (non-Jewish) perspective. I have been far more persuaded by reasoned explanations about why something is antisemitic which demonstrate clearly and precisely where the problem lies because, as you say, the problems can be both very real and yet pretty subtle. I am not particularly engaged by those who seek to defend all, or almost all, Israel’s actions as that doesn’t happen to fit with my views. I get the impression some supporters of Israel seem to think that being critical of Israel is selling out, moving towards a pro boycott position. I suppose that’s a bit like what I’m saying Hannah Weisfeld, that she advises adopting a certain position out of expediency. But I think it needs to be argued that there is no conflict between being quite sharply critical of Israel and opposing a boycott. The boycotters invoke Israel’s wrongdoings as a reason for boycott, and I think it’s almost falling into a trap to respond by being over defensive. Israel doesn’t have to exonerated of every wrong doing in order to prove it shouldn’t be singled out in this way. I agree with your other points too – for example distinguishing between different levels of antisemitism, as it’s alienating for the person accused and any others listening if an innocent mistake is used to imply someone is almost a Nazi. (And even if it’s not an innocent mistake, even if you know it’s the latest in a series of dog whistle type comments, it may look innocent to others involved in the discussion!)

  5. Jacob Arnon Says:

    I am posting this as I see it from the United States and I wouldn’t be surprised if you refuse to post it, although I hope you do posted it.

    I have to start with the obligatory comment about my position on Israeli settlement on the West bank. I have been opposed to them since the late 70’s when I realized that they would do nothing for the security of the Jewish State and would make a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians more difficult. However, I oppose the settlements as strongly as I support Israel.

    Hawking’s so called boycott says more about Britain’s bigoted intellectual climate than it does about Israel or the Jewish people. This climate has been made possible by the country’s descent into a third rate power and into mediocrity intellectually. Hawking’s is in many way’s a symbol of that descent. He is brilliant but not the most brilliant scientist at work today which is why he hasn’t won the Nobel prize in physics. (A joke going around now says that given his anti-Israel positions he will surely win at least the peace prize, now.)

    Now, I say the British intellectual climate because Hawking’s hasn’t said much about why he withdrew from the conference. It seems that both the BDS people and their supporters have assumed that he did so because of the Arab Israel conflict and that who oppose the boycott have gone along with this.
    It may be that the conflict is what drew Hawking’s to withdraw but since there is only one statement issued by his handler’s this isn’t much to go on.

    However, if he did embrace the Boycott against Israel than he needs to explain why this conflict is more important than the conflict in Syria with the 80 plus thousand dead (and counting) or the conflict between China and Tibet (a country it has occupied since it invaded it 50 plus years ago? I can mention other conflicts and other oppressed peoples, however, the fact that these don’t seem to matter to those who oppse the existence of a Jewish State I won’t bother. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not terms of casualties the most egregious today.

    There is no way anyone can justify boycotting Israel and not China, Iran, Turkey, or even the US, among many other countries. Israel is a target because the stakes are so low and the price to pay is even lower and bullies and the self-righteous are drawn to soft targets.

    The turn against Israel has given antisemites all over Europe the most important opening to spread their vile ideas. This will be Hawking’s most important contribution to the conflict. It will do nothing for peace in the Middle east.

  6. Yehuda Erdman Says:

    I was taken by surprise by Stephen Hawking withdrawing from Peres’ conference but as usual am even more surprised by the hysterical response to what he has done. Reading some of the comments to Hannah Weisfeld there seems to be a lot of “mind reading” going on where people assume all sorts of things and then come out with their own viewpoints, but they should clearly express that they are stating an opinion rather than fact.
    Also there is no direct link between the Ronnie Fraser case and the Peres conference, but again individuals are “shaking the big stick” and hitting all sorts of targets.
    I note that Jacob Arnon’s post was published but I must say I personally object very strongly to some of his sweeping comments about Britain. I do not regard this country as having descended to a third world power. After all I was under the impression that Britain has been the staunch ally of the USA both in Iraq and Afghanistan and Arnon lives in the USA. Britain is still a world power and just because Arnon disagrees with some opinions expressed by British subjects, which they are perfectly entitled to express in a democracy, does NOT give him the right to smear the whole country. Isn’t that morally just as bad as subscribing to a boycott of a conference?
    I would like to go on the record as stating that the boycott of Israel, either academic or of goods will not bring peace between Israel and Palestine any closer. On the contrary what is required, and Peres, Tony Blair and others have said this consistently, is promotion of the Palestinian economy jointly with Israel’s to create wealth, jobs and above all hope. In the long term this is the way to get the Palestinian young men off the streets and allow them to earn the money to have their own home, get married and settle down to a normal life.

    • Richard Gold Says:

      Yehuda, it’s Hannah who links the Ronnie Fraser case and the Peres conference in her article.

    • Jacob Arnon Says:

      Yehuda Erdman, seems to take some of my views personally.

      He says: “I personally object very strongly to some of his sweeping comments about Britain. I do not regard this country as having descended to a third world power. After all I was under the impression that Britain has been the staunch ally of the USA both in Iraq and Afghanistan and Arnon lives in the USA. Britain is still a world power and just because Arnon disagrees with some opinions expressed by British subjects, which they are perfectly entitled to express in a democracy,”
      My view of Great Britain standing in the world isn’t due to one or two views expressed by intellectuals with which I disagree.

      The US is still a “world power” but it’s not the world power it was even twenty five years ago. One can see that by the way policy makers and intellectuals react to challenges it faces in the world: we either overreact or we tend to think that what happens in other parts of the world is none of our business. (Our responses to Iraq under Bush and to Syria today are cases in point.) In other words we are confused about what to do and what not to do. The world was a lot more complicated and dangerous before the demise of the Soviet Union we were much more clear-minded about our role in the world. There were lots of disagreements of course, but these were about policy details not about our overall positions.
      Only people with their heads in the sand would say that Great Britain has not suffered a huge diminution of power in the last half century. Yes, it is our ally in Afghanistan and in Iraq but so were the Free French and the Poles during WW2 without being world powers.

      It’s sad that a large number of British intellectual believe that by boycotting Israel they can make a difference in the world. They deploy “moral power” which of course isn’t moral at all nor will it have much of an impact anywhere. I said it is sad because Great Britain can make a difference not by itself but with other European countries in Syria. Had Hawking called for the Great Britain and the EU to intervene (physically if necessary) to stop the appalling killings in Syria he would have done himself and his country proud. It would also have influenced policy makers in Washington.

      There is no real urgency to stopping Israel Palestinian conflict: it’s nasty, brutish, and very long and both sides suffer the longer it lasts, but there is urgency to stopping the Syrian conflict many hundreds of people dies weekly and it threatens to escalate to Turkey and Jordan: yet not a peep for these great moralizers. To what do you attribute that? I think that Britain’s standing in the world as a lot to do with it. Babble “boycott morality” and there is no need to do anything else. The advantages of such faux morality are that it asks you to refrain from acting. Just refrain from engaging Israelis a human level and you will get to feel very pure.
      As for Yehuda’s point about British democracy which has been in existence for over 300 hundred years it doesn’t explain much though it makes the lobbying to cease dealing with Israeli intellectuals all the more baffling. In a democracy intellectuals don’t try to silence other intellectuals just because they are foreign. Democracy is about engagement and not boycotts.

      • Yehuda Erdman Says:

        Jacob Arnon
        The USA is still a world power although those that said after the fall of the USSR that it is the only world power were in for a rude awakening. Your comment about the Poles and the Free French is not analogous because they were exiles in WW2 but nevertheless their contribution to the fight against Nazism is not to be ignored.
        I will accept that there are other world powers today that were not in the reckoning 50 years ago and also that Great Britain is not the power she was in 1939.
        We do live in a different age, and a much more dangerous age in some respects. Thankfully the threat of World Wars has receded and personally I attribute the peace we have enjoyed in Europe in large part to the creation of the EU. Many, especially in the Tory party would probably disagree with my opinion and they will no doubt carry on tearing their own party apart. Good.
        The dangers specific to today’s age which are also not unique to the 21st century is the apparent inability of World powers such as the USA and China as examples to cope with rogue states or “terrorist” organisations. I have put terrorist in inverted commas because one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. The Poles and Free French mentioned above would have been ruthlessly rounded up by the Nazis and executed.
        George W Bush was derided for talking about the axis of evil; namely North Korea, Iran and Syria, but it pains me to admit that he was largely correct. No one would have predicted the sort of savage repression and murderous attack on the Syrian people carried out by Assad and the Baathist regime in Syria, but as some have commented the USA has so far been powerless to put an end to it. To his credit, President Clinton did eventually stop the genocidal attacks by Serbian forces in the Baltics.
        The elephant in the room is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction since the end of WW2. Not just nuclear weapons which fortunately are technically beyond the grasp of many; but biological and chemical weapons which were manufactured on an industrial scale by many powers; and are stockpiled widely including in Syria.
        Thank you for being sympathetic to Stephen Hawking. If an individual is great in one field, in his case Physics, does not necessarily transfer to other realms in life. For example, I am incensed when religious leaders pontificate in the political realm as I subscribe to the view that politics and religion do not mix, and we have seen how badly things can get in Iran for example. It would have been better from Hawking’s point of view to have quietly withdrawn from Peres’ conference, as he does not need the aggravation that has been unleashed by this particular row. Today’s celebrity culture encourages people to come forward and make statements which are unwise when viewed in retrospect, but there is an insatiable demand to fill the media with claptrap. Let’s try not to add even more.

        • Jacob Arnon Says:

          “George W Bush was derided for talking about the axis of evil; namely North Korea, Iran and Syria, but it pains me to admit that he was largely correct.”

          I believe the axis of evil didn’t include Syria. H named Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. In any case he took out Saddam but didn’t do anything about the more dangerous regimes in Iran and North Korea and these two regimes are still there, still evil. That’s my point, Yehuda.

    • Noga Says:

      Arnon said: ” I have been opposed to them since the late 70’s when I realized that they would do nothing for the security of the Jewish State and would make a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians more difficult. However, I oppose the settlements as strongly as I support Israel.”

      Anti Israel activists are not interested in this kind of objection, that views settlements as detrimental to JEWISH objectives. The BDSers want you to declare that you are against settlements because they are a colonialist project and hence, criminal. Their objective is not liberating the WB for Palestinians. They are irredentist maximalists at best, who will not settle for anything less than the erasure of the entity called Israel from the global map. Even the egregious Norman Finkelstein realized that, and decided that it is a goal too far.

      (For what is to happen to the Jews once Israel is no more? Even Edward Said could not bear to think about it

      “I worry about that. The history of minorities in the Middle East has not been as bad as in Europe, but I wonder what would happen. It worries me a great deal. The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for me. I really don’t know. It worries me.” [-]
      “So in a generation or two, what we will have is an Arab-Jewish minority community in an Arab world?
      “Yes. Yes. I would have thought.”
      “Many Jews would find that frightening.” http://www.middleeast.org/archives/8-00-31.htm )

      The fact that Hawking does not get it is probably due to a certain laziness and indifference to really probe more deeply into the issue. Why is he relaxing his brilliant mind’s far reaching questionings of anything and everything in the universe, in this case? Is he too tired and frail to resist Chomsky’s certainties? Is he worried about his stature among his closest intellectual friends? The fact is he agreed to participate in the conference, knew in advance that he would be one of the key speakers there. What happened between his acceptance and his recantation? If he is so much against Israeli policies, as he made clear time and again, what happened, suddenly, at the last moment, to make him act on that knowledge in such a shrill and provocative manner? I cannot really imagine him to be a bigot or antisemitic. Something here does not compute. I agree with Erdman that the response is hysterical, and even more than that: it is outright frightened. The proper response should have been much more puzzlement and lot less outrage. A little compassion, too, would not be uncalled for, until such time as we fully understand what happened.

      Erdman said: “I would like to go on the record as stating that the boycott of Israel, either academic or of goods will not bring peace between Israel and Palestine any closer.”

      I would go even further and say that the boycott is deliberately deployed in order to PREVENT as progress towards peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Read Prof. AbuKhalil’s blog, where he dreams about the complete eradication of Israel. He is one of the BDS’s most ardent movers and shakers and he couldn’t help crowing in excited pleasure about Hawking’s declaration. Let Hawking read his blog and realize whom he has chosen to share his bed with. Let him ask Chomsky and his own Palestinian friends what they seek to achieve in this boycott and insist on a clear and unambiguous answer. But to do that, he needs to be a little more energetic and to care about Israelis, just a little bit, for no other reason than they are human beings, just like him, and just like him, trapped in a condition they did not choose for themselves.

      • Jacob Arnon Says:

        “Anti Israel activists are not interested in this kind of objection, that views settlements as detrimental to JEWISH objectives. The BDSers want you to declare that you are against settlements because they are a colonialist project and hence, criminal.”

        Well, Noga, since I am not against settlements because of the BDS I don’t much what they want. I care about what is best for Israel and not the BDS people.

        Anyway in today’s world there are few educated people (and not just educated people) who can claim not to be “colonizers.” Whether you are a European living in the “third world” (to use an old quaint expression, or an immigrant to a European country few people can claim to be natives of anywhere.

        What was and is called anti colonialism is just another for of netivism..

  7. Stephen Says:

    Perhaps where we’ve failed to convince the wavering majority is that we’ve been saying “anti-Semitic in effect but not in intent”. What might have begun as a polite reminder for the pro-boycott crowd to think twice, is surely no longer appropriate?

    We’ve explained politely on so many occasions why BDS is morally unjustified and racist and on each occasion we get slapped in the face with denials of anti-Jewish racism and further anti-Semitic claims, i.e. that we are lying about anti-Jewish racism. Does anyone really believe that, despite the denials, the people behind this campaign are not intentionally anti-Semitic?

    How else do you explain the double standards and hypocrisy, the lurch into irrationality in otherwise intelligent people and the clearly obsessive rush to punish Israelis and Jews, all based on arguments which more often than not amount to a pack of lies no less egregious than previous anti-Semitic claims?

  8. ctomatis Says:

    “[ She is saying that pro-Israel students use the accusation of antisemitism in bad faith.]

    No, she is suggesting that perhaps the more/most pro-Israel advocates invite it. And given some arguments are outrageous, sometimes I have less/little sympathy “.
    Of course this is correct. Affirming the view that Israel is not historically unique case of evil embodied in a state is in fact to invite people to behave in an antisemitic way, people who would never otherwise do so.
    It follows from this view that the best way to suppress the new, cool, fair trade, vegetarian antisemitism is to accept as a given the uniquely evil nature of the world’s only Jewish majority state.
    Nothing antisemitic about that idea at all, obviously.

    • zaccaerdydd Says:

      [Affirming the view that Israel is not historically unique case of evil embodied in a state is in fact to invite people to behave in an antisemitic way, people who would never otherwise do so.]

      No. That’s not what I meant. I specifically referred to ‘outrageous’ arguments. Sometimes even such outrageous arguments might not be as bad as their racist responses (though sometimes they might). But I am speaking practically, as my parents might have spoken to me: if you say stupid or unreasonable things, don’t be surprised if you draw a stupid or unreasonable response.

      You have used a typical pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian argument: take the most reasonable, unanswerable argument one can make e.g. x is not uniquely evil, and cast that as the ‘outrageous’ i.e. most unreasonable sort of argument to which I referred.

      Cheap, lazy misrepresentation posing as argument.

  9. Alex Says:

    I know this is moderately off-topic, but I feel the Humphreys formulation needs comment. (And I know his job as professional contrarian means this may not be his view)

    To reduce his statements to it’s elements, action A is justifiable if it draws attention to cause B. While we can come up with all sorts of horrendous examples, just from within this site, of where you do have to think that this is a repulsive stance, I’ll suggest one non-Jewish one:

    Boston bombings – plight of Chechens.

    • Sarah AB Says:

      Indeed. I originally drew another parallel in the post in fact, but then deleted it as it was a rather uncomfortable one, which I wouldn’t want to press too far. I was thinking that it could be argued that the EDL has helped draw attention to grooming gangs. (Although in fact it could also be argued that the actions of the EDL hindered because they made people feel uncomfortable or wary about a story targeting Muslims.) But that does not justify the EDL or mean that Muslims who are horrified by grooming should focus on drawing attention to that problem rather than speaking out against the EDL. Only really extreme BDS types like Masuku resort to tactics remotely like the EDL of course, and that is just one reason why I hesitated before making the parallel in the post.

    • zaccaerdydd Says:

      But that’s not what he meant. He was answering a putative objection such as ‘But boycotting Israel doesn’t help the Palestinians’.

      • Alex Says:

        I only have the Humphrys’ quote here 3rd hand and out of context. But there is a Machiavellian streak to that line of argument, where horrible things can be done to “raise awareness” and it is accepted. And it seems to be being increasingly used.

        That said, anyone who isn’t aware of the plight of the Palestinians by now isn’t paying attention, isn’t interested, and this won’t make a difference. Nor should it.

        • Jacob Arnon Says:

          “That said, anyone who isn’t aware of the plight of the Palestinians by now isn’t paying attention, isn’t interested, and this won’t make a difference. Nor should it.”

          You are right that it won’t make of a difference for the Palestinians and I should hope none for the Israelis.

          I find it pathetic that one of the “smartest” people in the UK (yes I am being a little facetious) can’t see the difference between a conflict between two rights (to borrow Amos Oz definition) and a conflict were tens of thousands of people are being murdered right now and no one in Either the West or the Muslim world is doing anything about it. I was happy to read that the British PM will be confronting Obama about the takeover of town in Syria by al Qaeda extremists. Maybe the old British lion can still roar after all.


          In any case, Hawking could have done the right thing and talked about the butchers in Syria but the old man decided to play to his amen corner and stick it to the Israelis. Pathetic.

    • Jacob Arnon Says:

      I agree Alex, but the Boston analogy gets weirder. I don’t know if you have heard but the bomb brothers are top suspects in a triple murder a few months ago. It seems that two of the people killed were Jews.

      “Mounting’ Evidence Links Tsarnaev Brothers to Unsolved Jewish Triple Murder Both Boston Bombing Suspects May Be Tied to 9/11 Slayings Jewish Victim: Erik Weissman was murdered on Sept. 11, 2011, along with another Jewish man and a third victim described as Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s best friend.”


      I am sure the professional Israel haters will figure out a way of tying these murders to Israel also.

  10. Brian Robinson Says:

    Examination paper: Compare and contrast …

    Eduardo Souto de Moura ignores pleas from leading architects to boycott Wolf Prize | News | Building Design


    http://tinyurl.com/d2blbqb [Curiously the link works with Google Chrome, but if you use Firefox it only opens a page offering you a free trial subscription, so I’ve copied this from the Chrome page – BR]

    Eduardo Souto de Moura ignores pleas from leading architects to boycott Wolf Prize
    12 April 2013 | By Elizabeth Hopkirk

    The $100,000 Israeli prize is handed out annually
    Eduardo Souto de Moura has accepted the $100,000 Wolf Prize despite being urged to boycott it by a string of leading architects.

    Will Alsop, Eva Jiricna, Ted Cullinan, Charles Jencks, Neave Brown, Kate Macintosh and Bob Giles signed a letter from the pressure group Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine which asked Souto de Moura, who won the Pritzker in 2011, to turn down the prize.

    The letter said: “We were saddened to hear that you have been awarded the Israeli Wolf Prize, not because you are not deserving of such awards, but that it is being offered to you by the Israeli state, in a very cynical move that would give them the respectability that is not deserved.

    “It is ironic that the award is for architecture, since the practice of architecture in Israel defies international norms and codes of ethics and demeans the humanity and high ideals of our profession.”

    The Wolf Prize is awarded annually in a number of categories ranging from agriculture to chemistry. The arts prize, for which Souto de Moura was nominated, alternates between painting, music, architecture and sculpture.

    Previous architect laureates include David Chipperfield, Jean Nouvel, Fumihiko Maki, Frank Gehry, Denys Lasdun and Souto de Moura’s father-in-law, Alvaro Siza.

    In its citation, the jury said it had picked the Portuguese architect for his “exceptional skills as a designer” and for “showing how buildings can philosophically and experientially engage with the natural world”.

    It added: “In a body of work of different scales and types, in Portugal and abroad, Eduardo Souto de Moura has created a better environment for people in a clear social frame work.

    “Of particular note is the coexistence that his buildings establish between society and nature, most poignantly in the stadium at Braga.”

    2000-2003, Architecture project for the Braga Stadium

    The first of two open letters urging Souto de Mouro to reject the prize, both written by British architect Abe Hayeem, chair of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, said the presentation would be made by people responsible for actions that have resulted in “illegal territorial expansion, mass killings and horrific urban destruction”.

    It concluded: “To accept the Wolf Prize would be giving credibility and respectability to such a state. We urge you, in solidarity with the besieged Palestinians, to reject this prize, which will give you much greater prestige as a supporter of human rights.”

    Souto de Moura’s office confirmed he would be accepting the prize.
    An earlier version of this story contained names provided to BD in error by Architects & Planners for Justice in Palestine. The architects on that list were signatories of another of the organisation’s protest letters.

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      PS One can’t put a price on morality of course, but on the other hand a sacrifice of 65 Grand (Sterling) without any compensation other than the gracious conferring of ‘greater prestige’ is asking rather a lot. Anyone know who’s in line for the Pulitzer? Gitmo, anyone? Dronewars?

  11. Sarah McCulloch Says:

    ‘“[ She is saying that pro-Israel students use the accusation of antisemitism in bad faith.]

    No, she is suggesting that perhaps the more/most pro-Israel advocates invite it. And given some arguments are outrageous, sometimes I have less/little sympathy “.’

    My understanding of that article (and of my experience at university) is that the more hawkishly pro-Israel you are, the more you will see anti-Semites round every corner. See Rabbi Sacks at the RE:Think festival telling an astonished Richard Dawkins that his views on the Bible in The God Delusion, because they concern the God of Israel, are “profoundly anti-Semitic” – which was ridiculous to Dawkins, his audience and many of us who watched that debate online. Similarly, I think a lot of Zionist advocates take all flak as the work of anti-Semites and fail to reflect that maybe people just don’t like them personally rather than their Jewish status.

    • zaccaerdydd Says:

      In which you case you seem to generally characterize ‘Zionist’ and ‘Zionism’ with something equally bigoted and racist, which suggests the area of your prejudice. If that is your general view of ‘Zionist’ and ‘Zionism’, then no wonder so many Jewish students report they encounter antisemitism when discussing Israel. They are bumping into characters like you (and ‘just because you are a character doesn’t mean you have character’).

    • Mythbusters Says:

      Several myths underpin this argument,
      Myth no.1 – that what you call ‘Zionist advocates (not sure what that means) treat all ‘flak’ about Israel as antisemitic. They do not.
      Myth no.2. – That there is no antisemitism in discussions of Israel.
      Myth no. 3 – That antisemitism is in the eye of the beholder, as opposed to it being an ideology with its own inherent traits.
      Myth no.4 – That those who call out antisemitism, who ‘see anti-Semites round every corner’, do so only because they are supporters of Israel and are incapable of making judgements as to what is or is not antisemitism.
      Myth no.5 – only Zionists makes claims about antisemitism.
      Each of the myths utilised in those few lines add up to the claim that antisemitism is in the imagination of Zionists.
      Funny, how arguments used by those who claim racism is a fiction and can be accounted for by a ‘chip on the shoulder’ of say Blacks, Asians, Muslims, etc. is utilsed by anti-racists (which I assume you are) when it comes to anti-Jewish racism.
      Why is it so hard to admit that, yes, at certain moments, criticism of Israel draws on antisemitic imagery. Surely, considering the history of European racism (including antisemitism)it would be surprising if it did not; or is antisemitism the one racism, the only racism, that Europe has finally and truly overcome?

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      Sarah, that’s very interesting, do you happen to have a link to the video (if there’s a recording still online) please? Dawkins can sometimes be curiously naif (although it’s worth remembering that he publicly changed his mind on the academic boycott — he’d initially signed “something pushed in front of him” (I paraphrase from memory) by Steven Rose at a scientific meeting. Dawkins subsequently wrote a letter to one of the national papers (Telegraph??, Times?? not sure) explaining that he did not, in fact, support an academic boycott of Israel. Dawkins et al are of course subjecting a system of belief to critical analysis and not being motivated by any form of racism; however in his extremely uncomplimentary remarks about the character of the God of the Hebrew Bible he lays himself open to misunderstandings about any personal constructs he might have concerning worshipers of that God.

      Anyone with any understanding of what Dawkins has written, or has seen and heard him personally in action, couldn’t possibly think him anti-Jewish, or indeed racist in any other way. Whether he goes about things in ways best calculated to achieve his ostensible ends, ah well, now that’s a different matter … (I often think his later work has almost ruined all the good earlier stuff popularising evolutionary theory. In so many ways he’s played into the hands of the creationists, but that too is another story.)

      Let’s see: someone should invite him to Israel (even give him a Wolf prize).

      • David Hirsh Says:

        Dawkins: “When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told – religious Jews anyway – than atheists and (yet they) more or less monopolize American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place.”


        • Brian Robinson Says:

          Thank you David. This made me do a little research. For instance this, from Dawkins’ old (not current) blog:-
          A Challenge to Atheists: come out of the closet
          Added: Monday, 15 May 2006 at 12:00 AM

          In 1987, a reporter asked George Bush senior whether he recognized the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists. Mr Bush’s reply has become infamous:

          “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots.”

          To see how outrageous this is, substitute ‘Jews’ for ‘atheists’. Bush’s bigoted remark was not an isolated mistake, blurted out in the heat of the moment and later retracted. He and his spokesmen stood by it in the face of repeated calls for clarification or withdrawal . He really meant it. And knew that it posed no threat to his election. Quite the contrary, it is universally accepted that an admission of atheism would be instant political suicide for any presidential candidate.

          The devout Joe Lieberman, who said something a little similar though less scandalous , was presumably added to Al Gore’s presidential ticket in an effort to court the Jewish vote. American Jewish voters constitute a respected lobby which, if newspapers are to be believed, is responsible for the USA’s relentless support of Israel, the Jewish state whose twentieth-century imposition on Palestine understandably affronted the people who already lived there. As we shall see when we look at numbers, however, it is by no means obvious why the Jewish vote is any more worth courting than the atheist vote. Except that American atheists have never got their act together and formed a proper lobby. If they did, they too could become very powerful. And that is what I want to urge.
          etc … (End of extract-quote)

          Ah, somebody should have told him not to believe everything he reads in “newpapers”.

          OK. I recall that Engage is philosophically consequentialist. So it’s no excuse that he doesn’t intend to be, and wouldn’t think he’s being hostile to Jews. If it quacks like a dawk …

  12. Brian Robinson Says:

    Noga writes: “Anti Israel activists are not interested in this kind of objection, that views settlements as detrimental to JEWISH objectives. The BDSers want you to declare that you are against settlements because they are a colonialist project and hence, criminal …”

    Noga, how far do you think they should go? Should the settlers take over the whole of the West Bank, ie Judaea and Samaria? The “Greater Israel” project? It must be tempting, and were I a certain sort of settler I could imagine myself being tempted.

    But what would one do about the non-Jewish Palestinians? Send them across the Allenby Bridge (as Netanyahu was once caught on tape speculating, as that van Creveld article I cited a while back depicted)? But what a pyrrhic victory that would be, and there must be many who, knowing how cautious a politician Netanyahu is, he’d never authorise such a move. But that still leaves the so-called demographic problem for the Zionist enterprise.

    I oppose the academic boycott and those parts of BDS directed against Israel in toto, but that doesn’t prevent my criticising Israeli expansionism and the other aspects of government policy that militate against peace and legitimately give every appearance of acting in bad faith during peace discussions.

    In my view the precisely wrong way to go about opposing the boycott is to speak the way Toby Greene did the other day on the Today programme, and that’s why Ghada Karmi won that joust hands down. I’m no cheerleader for Karmi but on that occasion her points were sound, and by not dealing with them adequately, Greene did neither the cause of Israel nor that of fighting antisemitism any good at all.

    I have a recording of the relevant section from the programme and in a few minutes I’ll put it in my Dropbox and add a link.

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      [audio src="https://www.dropbox.com/s/1k2tlm0vdymkvts/Today-9-May-2013_Karmi-vs-Greene.mp3" /]

      shorter http://tinyurl.com/bvm7nzf

      • ctomatis Says:

        “The “Greater Israel” project?” Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The fact that people can still say things like that makes one wonder if there’s any point going on with debate. The “Greater Israel Project”, such as it was, ended in the ruins of the Phalange Party HQ in Beirut on September 24, 1982.

        If that date means nothing to you, try looking at a map of the real estate controlled by Israel Israel in 1979 and compare it with another of the land it controls now.

        • Brian Robinson Says:

          QUOTE [A]ccording to [retired Israel Defense Forces Col. Shaul Arieli of the Council for Peace and Security], it is hard to overstate the importance of the new roads in undermining the prospect of the re-division of the city and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. All of the proposed peace plans, he said, including the Geneva Initiative and proposals that came out of the United States-brokered summits at Annapolis and Camp David, have provided for the division of Jerusalem and the transfer of control of portions of thecity to a Palestinian state.

          “Is there anyone who really believes there is a chance for a permanent
          agreement [with the Palestinians] without a Palestinian capital in East
          Jerusalem?” Arieli asked …END QUOTE

          — Paving the way to an indivisible Jerusalem Sunday May 12, 2013
          A new highway connecting Jewish neighbourhoods in northern Jerusalem is the latest addition to a network of roads making a future division of the city increasingly unlikely
          http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/paving-the-way-to-an-indivisible-jerusalem.premium-1.523235 by Nir Hasson Haaretz 10 May 2013
          or http://tinyurl.com/cc6pk8c Leaving the Holy Trinity out of it, this is the sort of thing I meant by ‘greater Israel’. Maybe it’s not ‘The’ defunct project, but the new one (as exemplified in the Ha’aretz piece) is what’s more colloquially referred to as a ‘land grab’.

        • Brian Robinson Says:

          Apologies, not ‘Trinity’, but ‘Family’. (There’s no ‘Reply’ button for my own first reply to you.)

      • Noga Says:

        Brian, You misunderstand. I’m not even entering into a discussion of the morality of the settlements. If you wish to know what I think, you will have to ask your question in straightforward manner without assuming you know anything in advance about my position. Nothing makes me respect another less than to have to deal with that kind of righteousness and presumption.

        My point was simple: It is useless and futile to try to tell BDS that you basically agree with the position that settlements are bad. They are not interested in WB settlements. They want to see Israel re-configured into Palestine. For them a two-state solution is a sellout and a collaboration with a criminal regime. They want to see Israelis punished, driven from their homes, corralled into refugee camps. They will settle for nothing less. Certainly they do not appreciate anyone saying the settlements are not good for Jewish Israel because they wish to cancel the “Jewish” in Palestine. For anyone who has a quarter brain it should be perfectly clear that this is the goal. For someone like Hawking it is unimaginable that he should not be aware of it. Which is why his gesture of rejection is highly puzzling. Does he not believe BDS’s own declarations?

        • Brian Robinson Says:

          Thank you Noga. What do you think of the settlements? I think they make the Israel-Palestine conflict worse, make the prospects for peace very much less, and convey the message that Israel is not seriously interested in realising the two-state resolution. I hope the question is straightforward. (By the way, and I’ve said this before, and on other blogs too, I do indeed find it difficult discussing issues with pseudonymous contributors, and please forgive me if Noga really is your full name. I make exceptions for whistle-blowers and for people writing from eg within totalitarian, repressive countries: so yes, of course I can’t know anything about what you think that you don’t tell me.) Thanks in advance for any clarification.

        • Lynne T Says:

          No less than Norman Finklestein pronounced BDS a cult specifically because its aim was a single binational state that could only be imposed with an incredible amount of bloodshed because such proposal was totally and completely unacceptable to over 6 million Jewish citizens of Israel (never mind the majority of Arab Israelis who want no part of Palestinian or Arab rule). So here we have a man who, although a scientist of note, is very much under the influence of cultists, and obviously in a deep state of conflict/denial as he relies daily on the fruit of Israeli science — innovation inspired in no small part to rehabilitate victims of terror — to communicate.

          For Hawking et al, it’s an incredibly simple tunnel vision calculation: Arabs were wrongfully displaced by Jews. No other facts matter, including the massive displacement of Jews from the MENA, who largely immigrated to Israel and some of whom are the primary targets of rocket attacks from Gaza, largely with Hamas’s consent.

      • Noga Says:

        I listened to the conversation. Alan Johnson posted it somewhere a few days ago. Dr. Green did well. But Kharmi’s tactics are more effective. She keeps to a simple message:Apartheid, repression. This is what listeners take away from this conversation. They are not likely to remember Green’s more detailed and reliable information about what’s going on on the ground. He should have mentioned, at least as many times as the word “Apartheid” made an appearance, that the checkpoints are there to prevent terrorists and that the greatest harm done to Palestinian academic freedom came from their own government, but somehow, everything is being attributed to Israel, even when the claim is far fetched,

        It occurs to me that this simple message is what frames the issue of boycotts, the “signal” for Hawking. Anything said OUTSIDE this context is taken to be noise. The challenge is to change the frame, or force the wider context into the frame. If BDSers have their way, and Said’s best-case scenario as delineated in my first comment becomes a reality, how will Hawking ever be able to sleep knowing his action contributed to the demise of the only Jewish
        country in the world?

      • Jonathan Says:

        Brian, from your comments above and below, you seem to accept that the Greater Israel project in the sense of Israel permanently incorporating all of what was British Palestine is now defunct. But you seem to view as equivalent to that old Greater Israel project Israel’s long-standing official policy of keeping Jerusalem undivided (although Barak in 2001 and Olmert in 2008 apparently both offered to re-divide it), calling actions deriving from it ‘Israeli expansionism’ and ‘a land grab’. Is that right? If so, this doesn’t seem very accurate or fair to me and I’d encourage you to take a look at Yaacov Lozowick’s arguments for keeping Jerusalem united:


  13. Jacob Arnon Says:

    One more delicious irony, among many:

    “The Israeli Presidential Conference that Stephen Hawking is boycotting in solidarity with the Palestinians has featured a succession of prominent Palestinian speakers among its participants over the years, including key members of the Palestinian Authority”


    I would still like to know: why did Hawking decide to boycott Israel now? Why did he first give as a reason, “an illness” then he said that Palestinian Professors asked him to withdraw, then the guardian reported that it was Chomsky who asked him to boycott the conference.

    Why can’t Hawking and his handlers get the story straight? Above all why isn’t the Professor able to think for himself and make up his own mind about these issues? Why does he have to give as a reason “somebody asked me to….”

    Finally, and this is the most important question of all: will Hawking, the Israel boycotter also not allow Israeli scientists to work in his research institute, how ill he treat Israeli students?

  14. Noga Says:

    To Brian:

    I’m deeply amused that you think Noga is a pseudonym. It is a proper Hebrew name and it is mine.

    I support a mutual cancellation of “rights” if the result is genuine peace. But I refuse to reiterate a stand that de-facto strengthens Palestinian claims over Israel while weakening Jewish historical claims. If Israeli Jews are expected to wrench their attachment from their historical heartland (not just of 2 millennia but as recently as 1929 and 1947), so should Palestinians.

    I do not see how much longer will Israel be able to sustain its occupation and restraining of this people, in the current manner. It is better that Israel withdraws to a more defensible borderline. And this can only happen if Jewish settlements enclaved deep inside Palestinian land are removed and moved into areas within Israel. As long as there is presence there, there will be growth. And this growth worries me because it does not seem to have a future commensurate with the wishes of most Israelis. What the Palestinians then do with the Judenrein WB is completely up to them (and a headache for Israel, if it goes the way of Gaza). Separation is an existential necessity for Israel. Those ultra religious settlers who are there mostly because of their faith will simply have to accept that Israel’s law will bind them, and that Israel’s peoplehood needs cannot be achieved in the historical Jewish heartland but somewhere nearby. The Western wall and the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem have to remain under sole Jewish control. During the years of British mandate Jews were not allowed to sit on stools or blow the shofar there. Israel cannot outsource the management of the place of its most important history to any other, however well meaning they might be. (I was recently reminded of these British Mandate anti-Jewish strictures when I re-read Agnon’s short story Tehilla: http://12r1.wikispaces.com/file/view/Tehilla+copy.pdf The relevant segment is on page 17-18).

    I think Israel should build two great, well designed cities, one in the Negev and one in the Galilee, to accommodate the displaced settlers, and anyone else who might want to live there. But absent any agreement, the separation fence should become a very high double wall.

    A friend of mine suggested that the idea of an exchange of rights between two peoples could be seen as a kind of “potlach”. Potlaches, however, were rooted in friendship and generosity and none of these human goods seem to flourish between Palestinians and Israelis.

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      Thank you very much Noga (by the way, I did ‘google’ the name but there were at least as many Nogas as there are Brians, so I couldn’t identify you, but I’m pleased to meet you).

      What you say makes a great deal of sense to me and it’s certainly a lot more realistic than some of the ‘one-state’ resolutions offered elsewhere. I shall certainly think about what you’ve written.

    • Yehuda Erdman Says:

      I agree that your proposals for a solution to the Israel /Palestine problem are eminently sensible but regretfully they will not be implemented soon. Successive leaders both Israeli and Palestinian have connived not to bring peace to this troubled area. It is inconceivable otherwise that a relatively small conflict in global terms could have dragged on for so long. Unfortunately the action and inaction of Israeli leaders is much less excusable because they had the power to rectify much of the Palestinian grievances, especially if decisive action had been taken soon after the 6 Day War.
      As for building the cities; surely Beer Sheva will be the city of the Negev. It is too early to say which city will be the one in the Galil.
      The British Mandate era was characterised by anti-Arab strictures as much as anti-Jewish ones depending on the needs of the time to maintain peace and stability. This was very evident at the outbreak of WW2 when the British cracked down on extremists of both sides in order to concentrate on the war effort. We Jews point to how “nasty” Haj Amin alHusseini was (which he was), but conveniently ignore that Menachem Begin had a huge price on his head also.

      • Noga Says:


        To paraphrase Oliver Kamm’s rule of thumb concerning analogies: Analogies are never exact but sometimes useful. If they are to be useful, then at a minimum, the earlier event in the analogy ought to be stated accurately. If you need to compare Begin — a leader who made peace with an Arab country and removed thousands of Israelis from the Sinai as part of that agreement– with Husseini –a leader who made common cause with HItler and never made the tiniest effort to make peace with the Jews– you will have to clarify why the latter is considered by you to be the moral equivalent of the former. What was in Husseini’s record that was similar in content, intent, deed and scope, to anything Begin ever did or was.

        There is a fallacy, that I call fetishization of balance, a term coined by Martin Amis:

        “We are drowsily accustomed, by now, to the fetishization of “balance,”
        the ground rule of “moral equivalence” in all conflicts between West and
        East, the 100 percent and 360-degree inability to pass judgment on any
        ethnicity other than our own (except in the case of Israel).”
        The Second Plane, September 11: Terror and Boredom_ (2008)

        I would amend that a little to fit my response to the false analogy you offer between Begin and Husseini:
        the ground rule of “moral equivalence” in the I/P conflict, the 100 percent and 360-degree inability to pass judgment on any crime committed by the Palestinians and their leaders without manufacturing some Israeli equivalent.

        I prefaced my comment which you approve of with the following caveat: I support a mutual cancellation of “rights” if the result is genuine peace. But I refuse to reiterate a stand that de-facto strengthens Palestinian claims over Israel while weakening Jewish historical claims. If Israeli Jews are expected to wrench their attachment from their historical heartland (not just of 2 millennia but as recently as 1929 and 1947), so should Palestinians.

        • Yehuda Erdman Says:

          My point simply put is that Begin used terrorism as a method just as much as Husseini did.

  15. Jonathan Says:

    Some of the comments above seem to me to reflect wisespread misconceptions about the settlements. In reality:
    (1) In the 1990s, Israel agreed with the PA as part of the Oslo process that, pending a final peace deal, Israel would not build new settlements or allow existing settlements to expand beyond current boundaries. Israel has kept to that deal, which allowed building within existing settlements, with only a handful of infractions;
    (2) For over a decade now, Israel has said it will evacuate all settlements ending up on the Palestinian side of the border in the event of a peace deal. That Israel ended the occupation of Gaza and removed all settlements there shows it is willing and able to do so;
    (3) There is a big difference between those settlements that will obviously remain in Israel in the event of a peace deal (see e.g. the Geneva Project maps) and those deep in the WBank which will not. Most recent building within settlements are in the former and, indeed, it is unreasonable for life to be put on hold in those settlements because the Palestinians are refusing to negotiate;
    (4) If the Palestinian leadership’s goal were truly a state living peacefully alongside Israel and if the settlements were as damaging to that cause as many claim, then those leaders would be banging on Israel’s door insisting on making a deal as soon as possible to get rid of all settlements in the new state’s territory. That they are not doing this suggests settlements are really a distraction from the core issue of Israel’s existence, something which remains as problematic as ever for many in the overlapping Palestinian and Arab worlds, especially with the rise to dominance of various forms of Islamism.

  16. Brian Robinson Says:

    Not sure whether this is a bullseye or a near miss (but it’s not directed at Hawking or those who support his action)
    The Forward May 14, 2013 Brief History of Stephen Hawking’s Hypocrisy By Eli Valley

    Read more: http://tinyurl.com/d5x9sfp

    • Noga Says:

      Hawking’s physical condition should not serve as material for criticizing his decision. References to it, or his helplessness, or the fact that some of his life-supporting equipment comes from Israel are simply gratuitous and irrelevant. I cringed when I read some of the insults hurled at him. If Israeli technology can bring some relief to his life, let it be Israel’s moment of grace and graciousness to do so, and more if its scientists could make it possible. Enough with the schadenfreude. Hawking is not our enemy.

      • Brian Robinson Says:

        Noga, the cartoon is a satire on Hawking’s critics, as I think you realise. For sure, you’re right and I shared your dismay at those insults.

  17. Ben Says:

    Interesting article, and then some good points in the follow up posts that led me to add some notes of my own.
    I didn’t agree with a lot of Ms. Weisfeld’s article, but the only thing in it that struck me as toxic was the insinuation that Jews who don’t tow the pro-Arab party line in whatever sphere they’re in should resign themselves to being attacked; that’s the kind of defeatist view that the Leftist Jewish community in the UK often abets because they don’t want to lose their “good Brit” status, and on balance that kind of mewling surrender is simply pathetic. On the ugliest level of the BDS world, the only good Jew is someone who abets their cause and can be disposed of once that cause is victorious.
    That said, some of the things in her piece that didn’t find a nodding reception from me are basically vantage point matters. She can separate between boycotts of the West Bank and one-stater driven boycotts of everything, and while I do not believe the two groups are that disparate (nor that the idea that they are should automatically absolve all boycotters of any use of anti-Semitism at any time), I do think there are folks who aren’t in the PACBI camp but won’t have anything to do with settlements, and they aren’t a major concern or confrontation point for me. I’m a two-stater whose sympathy for WB settlers was never high and has become almost nil, not because I think they’re the main roadblock to a peace settlement (I’ll go over that in my conclusion) but because they are a small minority who want to, and often have, force Israel to do everything they want. And in scholarly terms, I say fuck that shit.
    Also, I think the entire “hasbara” part of her article was a misfire on positioning. I would LOVE it if I made an anti-BDS argument that convinced a BDSer that his cause is hypocritical offal (which it uncategorically is) but I don’t care if that DOESN’T happen; I’m making my arguments to people who haven’t made up their minds and put them on permanent lockdown. And in that sense, hasbara isn’t the dirty word Ms. Weisfeld appears to feel it is: it’s advocacy on valid points that not everyone has to (or will) agree with.
    Per the settlements issue: They’re not the reason there’s been no peace agreement and doesn’t appear to be one on the horizon. The reason for that is that the other side still believes they can win the war for Palestine, not in a military sense (that’s a pipe dream even Hamas can’t embrace seriously) but in forcing a united Israel-WB-Gaza nation that would be Muslim-majority and free to make Israeli Jews second-class citizens at best and drive them out/murder them at worst. You don’t compromise if you think you can achieve all of your goals, and making Gaza and WB Judenfrei is not a main goal of the overall Palestinian side. And I’d love to hear someone explain to me in logically sound terms how the drive to get rid of all Israel settlements from the WB and the drive to have millions of Palestinians return to the 1948 or 1967-based Israeli nation fit together, unless the person explaining them has either unusual messianic zeal or a really gruesome head trauma.

  18. Brian Robinson Says:

    The word ‘Judenfrei’ seems to have been gaining currency in discussions, or perhaps it’s just that I’ve only just noticed it. But that word carries such a weight of baggage and no-one here needs to be reminded of its resonances. Is the use deliberate, or quasi-deliberate, in some way to link the present situation with the past, perhaps conveying an apocalyptic warning? Noga spoke above, in a different context, of cringing, well when I see ‘Judenfrei’ it makes me cringe.

    In some happy future arrangement, with a peaceful Palestine existing alongside a peaceful Israel, Palestine (the former West Bank) wouldn’t be free of Jews — Palestinians could visit and even live in Israel, Jews could do the same in Palestine. That would be an Israel within pre-67 borders, of course.

    Isn’t there some other word we could use? Anyway, why should we speak German?

  19. Noga Says:

    Prof. Hawking ought to be told what his name is being used for:

    1) The movement has to take a clear, categorical stance against the very existence of Israel. [-]

    7) BDS …is a complementary movement – complementary to other forms of struggle – and not an end in itself. [-]

    8) BDS represents one strand of struggle among many that include armed struggle, as enshrined in the Palestine Liberation Organization charter of 1968 (long before it was amended by Bill Clinton in the 1990s)


    BTW, all these “requisites” are already being promoted by the BDSers, as we learned from one of its proponents, Norman Finkelstein.

  20. Brian Robinson Says:

    HOWARD JACOBSON in the Independent

    Friday 17 May 2013
    It’s official: thanks to Stephen Hawking’s Israel boycott, anti-Semitism is no more
    Why is Israel alone of all offending countries to be boycotted? Perhaps because it’s that offending country which also just happens to be Jewish?



    “Gather round, everybody. I bear important news. Anti-Semitism no longer exists! Ring out, ye bells, the longest hatred has ceased to be. It’s kaput, kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. It’s a stiff, ladies and gentlemen. An EX-PREJUDICE! …”

  21. Dan Sweeney Says:

    I wonder if the ‘boycott’ is applied to all Israeli academics, or is it only Jewish Israeli academics. If the latter then it is de facto anti semitic regardless of its flag of convenience. I believe its also being used to put pressure on Jewish academics in both the UK and US regardless of their nationality (right of return notwithstanding)

    • Noga Says:

      Israel does not have a Right of Return. It has a Law of Return. There is a difference. The former is God made. The latter is man-made.

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