It’s official: thanks to Stephen Hawking’s Israel boycott, anti-Semitism is no more – Howard Jacobson

This piece is by Howard Jacobson, in The Indpendent.
Howard Jacobson

Howard Jacobson

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!

I first heard the news in a motion passed by the University and College Union declaring that criticism of Israel can “never” be anti-Semitic which, if “never” means “never”, is a guarantee that Jew-hating is over, because … Well, because it’s impossible to believe that an active anti-Semite wouldn’t – if only opportunistically – seek out somewhere to nestle in the manifold pleats of Israel-bashing, whether in generally diffuse anti-Zionism, or in more specific Boycott and Divestment Campaigns, Israeli Apartheid Weeks, End the Occupation movements and the like. Of course, you don’t have to hate Jews to hate Israel, but tell me that not a single Jew-hater finds the activity congenial, that criticising Israel can “never” be an expression of Jew-hating, not even when it takes the form of accusing Israeli soldiers of harvesting organs, then it follows that there’s no Jew-hating left.

These tidings would seem to be confirmed by Judge Anthony Snelson who, investigating a complaint that the Union was institutionally anti-Semitic, encountered not a trace of any such beast, no suggestion it had lurked or was lurking, not the faintest rustle of its cerements, not so much as a frozen shadow on a wall. Indeed, so squeaky-clean was the union in all its anti-Israel motions and redefinitions of anti-Semitism to suit itself, that Judge Snelson berated the Jewish complainants, a) for wasting his time with evidence, b) for irresponsibly raiding the public purse, and c) for trying to silence debate, which is, of course, the rightful province of the Boycott and Divestment movement.

It was this same Judge Snelson, reader, who ruled in favour of a Muslim woman claiming the cocktail dress she was expected to wear, while working as a cocktail waitress in Mayfair, “violated her dignity”. Not for him the cheap shot of wondering what in that case she was doing working as a cocktail waitress in a cocktail bar in Mayfair. If she felt she was working in a “hostile environment”, then she was working in a “hostile environment”, which is not to be confused with a Jew feeling he is working in a hostile environment since with the abolition of anti-Semitism there is no such thing as an environment that’s hostile to a Jew. My point being that Judge Snelson’s credentials as a man who knows a bigot from a barmcake are impeccable.

And now, with Stephen Hawking announcing, by means of an Israeli-made device, that he no longer wants to talk to the scientists who invented it, or to Israeli scientists who invented or might invent anything else, or indeed to Israeli historians, critics, biologists, physicists of any complexion, no matter what their relations to Palestinian scholars whom he does want to talk to, we are reminded that the cultural boycott with which he has suddenly decided to throw in his lot is entirely unJew-related, which is more good news. “Peace”, that is all Professor Hawking seeks, a word that was left out of his statement as reproduced on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign website, presumably on the grounds that everyone already knows that peace is all the PSC has ever wanted too.

To those who ask why Israel alone of all offending countries is to be boycotted, the answer comes back loud and clear from boycotters that because they cannot change the whole world, that is no reason not to try to change some small part of it, in this case the part where they feel they have the most chance of success, which also just happens to be the part that’s Jewish. That this is, in fact, a “back-handed compliment” to Jews, John MacGabhann, general secretary of the pro-boycott Teachers’ Union of Ireland, made clear when he talked of “expecting more of the Israeli government, precisely because we would anticipate that Israeli governments would act in all instances and ways to better uphold the rights of other”, which implies that he expects less of other governments, and does not anticipate them to act in all instances and ways better to uphold the rights of others. And why? He can only mean, reader, because those other governments are not Jewish.

I’d call this implicit racism if I were a citizen of those circumambient Muslim countries that aren’t being boycotted – a tacit assumption that nothing can ever be done, say, about the persecution of women, the bombing of minorities, discrimination against Christians, the hanging of adulterers and homosexuals, and so on, because such things are intrinsic to their cultures – but at least now that we have got rid of anti-Semitism, tackling Islamophobia should not be slow to follow.

It’s heartening, anyway, after so many years of hearing Israel described as intractable and pitiless, to learn that activists feel it’s worth pushing at Israel’s door because there is a good chance of its giving way. It’s further proof of our new abrogation of anti-Semitism that we should now see Israel as a soft touch, the one country in the world which, despite its annihilationist ambitions, will feel the pain when actors, musicians, and secretaries of Irish Teachers’ Unions stop exchanging views with it. All we need to do now is recognise that those who would isolate Israel, silence it and maybe even persuade it to accept its own illegitimacy intend nothing more by it than love.

Can the day be far away when Israel no longer exists, when the remaining rights-upholding, peace-loving countries of the region come together in tolerance and amity, and it won’t even be necessary to speak of anti-Semitism’s demise because we will have forgotten it ever existed? That’s when Jews will know they’re finally safe. Ring out, ye bells!

This piece is by Howard Jacobson, in The Indpendent.

16 Responses to “It’s official: thanks to Stephen Hawking’s Israel boycott, anti-Semitism is no more – Howard Jacobson”

  1. josephinebacon Says:

    Brilliant! I am going to send this piece to Len Wardle of the Cooperative Party, the Cooperative supermarkets are the only ones in the UK to boycott Israeli goods. Like UCU who claim that being anti-Israel is not being anti-Jewish, the Cooperative Movement claims it is only boycotting goods from “the settlements” when in practice they boycott all Israeli agricultural produce (which will, of course, include agricultural produce from Arab farmers in Israel) by boycotting Agrexco, Mehadrin and one other company. They claim they are doing it on “moral grounds”! Please mention this in your next think-piece, Howard!

  2. zaccaerdydd Says:

    Needless to say, an excellent piece. However, has it been established beyond doubt that Hawking uses Israeli tech in his voice box? If not it seems a needlessly vulnerable point in an otherwise persuasive essay.

    Personally I think more apposite is Hawking’s past collaboration with the Israeli Jacob Bekenstein, who gave his name to the more accurately termed Hawking-Bekenstein Radiation, his having originally proposed that black holes have a well-defined entropy, and Hawking’s having originally opposed him.

    What would that mean for such collaboration today, especially since it was an Israeli who contributed so much to the discovery that ‘made’ Hawking in the first place?

  3. zaccaerdydd Says:

    Here is an account of Hawking’s voice device, and I can’t see an obvious Israeli connection:

  4. zaccaerdydd Says:

    It uses an intel tablet, which is indeed based on Intel® Core™ i7 Processor. Sorry, this is well known, I know.

  5. Jeremiah Riemer Says:

    Time was when well-meaning people saw antisemitism as the canary in the coal mine. Has it now become (by definitional fiat) just a dead parrot?

  6. Mickygee Says:

    Boycotters of Israel unite. You have nothing to lose but your cellphones, tablets, computers, health, digital connectivity, objectivity and last shred of dignity.

    • Noga Says:

      The objection to BDS should be based on ethical grounds, not the fact that its followers are technically at odds with themselves over the use of these gadgets. This is a very tiny factor and the least of our concerns. Their hypocrisy is rooted in their double standards and incapability to define and openly declare the future they are seeking to bring about with anything even close to honesty. I wish someone who is experienced in third-degree interrogation would sit with these crocodiles and force them to describe exactly what they are aspiring to and how that will come about, all this in a TV studio. And then send the video to any celebrity like Hawking announcing they boycott Israel, at the very least depriving them of any delusion that they are merely promoting peace and justice. They need to be confronted with the evil of their decision, with the possibility that they are complicit in facilitating the very crimes they profess to abhor.

      It does not bear imagining that decent people who are known to possess the ability to think qualitatively can so openly ignore and deprive Jews of the very essence of human rights that they seek to re-affirm for Palestinians.

  7. zaccaerdydd Says:

    Good article in Haaretz about the effect of the boycott on Israeli academics abroad

    It’s subscription only, but I can supply a copy and paste to those that wish it.

  8. Carlo Says:

    Regarding Stephen Hawking and Israeli-devised gadgetry, see the comment by graphic artist Eli Valley in the Forward: “Brief History of Mr. Hawking’s Hypocrisy”:

  9. Brian Robinson Says:

    I’m in correspondence at the moment with a dedicated boycotter, who often gets cross with me. I’ve just included this in a reply to one of his:

    [Y]ou wont be surprised to know, [whoever], that I’ve read an awful lot pro and con the A/C [academic / cultural] boycott, I’ve watched online discussions and I’ve been to meetings and listened to the arguments. They are in many cases well argued, strong points in favour of A/C-B, and whether I agree or not, many people are still going to support it. And since I know several personally, I know they are genuine and sincere. They may well prove to have been right in the end and all along.

    And yet I simply can’t help feeling that there’s something wrong about it, something that feels wrong. This might make you cross, it’s the question that makes many people cross, but it still (to my mind) has never yet received an adequate and completely honest answer, and it’s the question raised yet again today in the article by Jacobson in the Independent: why, amongst all the wretched, wicked, abhorrent, ghastly states in the world, why Israel?

    I’m not asking you personally for an answer to that question, I’m making a point because I’ve never yet found anyone who can answer it, well, actually, no, they do answer it, but it’s always evasively, always with rationalisations.

    Although if you want a challenge, here’s one for you (but not for responding now, not by email, and not necessarily to myself): write an article on the topic, “Why Israel? Why now?” I warn you, you’ll have your work cut out to answer it with total intellectual honesty. I’d be interested to read it. (I’m uneasily aware you could come back at me with a challenge to write, “Why it’s wrong to A/C-B Israel” or some such.)

    • Alex Says:

      The “why Israel” needs one other little caveat – it needs to not rest on stereotypical assumptions of Jewishness.

  10. Brian Robinson Says:

    Hague signs scientific collaboration deal between the UK and Israel
    By Sandy Rashty
    Created 05/23/2013 – 16:19
    UK news Science
    UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has agreed an initiative that will promote co-operation on scientific issues between the UK and Israel.

    The Today Memorandum of Understand on Scientific Cooperation was signed by Mr Hague and Yaakov Peri, the Israeli minister for science, technology and space.

    Israel is well established in the scientific field. Four Israelis have won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry and Israel has the highest number of scientists and engineers per capital than any other country.

    Mr Hague said: “Both the UK and Israel are scientific superpowers, and many of our universities and academics are already doing tremendous work together.”

    He also expressed support for the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership (BIRAX).

    Mr Peri said: “Despite the fact that there are people in British academia who call to boycott Israel, the British government shows that it acknowledges the importance of scientific collaboration with Israel.”

    Earlier this month, noted scientist Stephen Hawking said he would boycott the President’s Conference in Israel.

    The agreement outlined five areas of co-operation: neuroscience, space research, technology, regenerative medicine, agricultural science and nano-technology.

    Source URL:

  11. Brian Robinson Says:

    Ah yes, the irony …
    My transcript of an excerpt from Channel 4’s 10-minute report from Hungary by Paraic O’Brien: (Copy from Ch4 online report below).

    Jozsef Inàncsi (@3’50”): “We have an internal problem that is Gypsy crime … and an external threat – the Jewish invasion … We know there is a global Zionist fund controlling the whole world, including the US and the European Union … It’s thanks to them Hungary has become a mess since the end of Communism …”

    The deputy leader of Jobbik (“the party’s rising star”, says O’Brien), “educated [I’m sorry to say — BR] at Trinity College Dublin, a former analyst with KPMG … If Jobbik won next year’s election, what would they do?” 1, prevent foreigners buying land in Hungary, 2, to deal with “the global Jewish conspiracy to take over Hungary (O’Brien’s summary)

    Márton Gyöngyösi: “This is the first step and the most important step, to see what sort of identity and what sort of loyalty Hungarian parliamentarians, Humgarian members of government and Hungarian civil servants ——

    O’Brien: So to check whether people have dual citizenship of Israel and Hungary …

    Gyöngyösi: “Yes exactly, because we have all the reasons to believe that ——

    O’Brien interjects a question, “To make a list of those people?” Gyöngyösi demurs, he never said (to make a list), it wasn’t his job, he’s not a parliamentarian. O’Brien asks him whose job it would be, and he replies, “the secret service”.

    O’Brien’s report continues: “So, complete with all its dark historical resonance, the third biggest party in Hungary wants the secret service to draw up a list of people in public life who have dual Israeli-Hungarian citizenship.

    The report ends with a short interview with Tova Ben-Dov, vice president of the World Jewish Congress issuing a warning. The WJC was meeting in Budapest (rather than as usual in Jerusalem) to draw attention to the increase in antisemitism and (says Ch 4 News Online) “to send a message to Jobbik that they would not be intimidated”.

    The concluding image is of the Memorial by the Danube to the Jews killed by a fascist militia during WWII.

    There was an 8-minute discussion after the broadcast report. (Same page, links below)

    On the streets with Hungary’s far-right – Channel 4 News – 10-min video report from Paraic O’Brien

    Online text report by Brian Whelan, who must have been the producer who was “hit on the side of the head” by a Jobbik supporter:

    Monday 27 May 2013 Hungary , World
    On the streets with Hungary’s far-right

    In Hungary an extremist nationalist party linked to paramilitary-style militias is making huge gains. Channel 4 News travelled to Budapest to meet the men behind the Jobbik campaign.

    The far-right Jobbik party is hoping to become Hungary’s second biggest political party at next year’s elections but their manifesto is filled with vitriolic references to gypsies and Jews.

    Jobbik currently holds 43 seats in the Hungarian parliament and two in the European parliament. In Hungary it has become a legitimate political force – although its anti-Semitic message has raised concerns across the globe.

    The party is allied with the BNP through the Alliance of European National Movements, but is considerably more successful. One key difference is its ties to vigilante militias – think English Defence League, but sober and in military uniforms.

    The nationalist militias descend on gypsy towns to intimidate and sow division – when banned, they simply re-form with new names and similar structures.

    At a Jobbik protest against “Zionism and communism” a few hundred metres from the World Jewish Congress, Channel 4 News watched Jobbik’s leader address a crowd containing uniformed members of the Magyar Nemzeti Garda and the more extreme Betyarsereg (Army of Outlaws). The groups took part in military-style drills, and members of Betyarsereg carried helmets and gas masks.

    The gathering went almost completely unopposed, with a very light police presence – in Hungary paramilitary-style far-right rallies have been normalised.

    Although he Jewish Congress is usually held in Jerusalem, it came to Budapest to draw attention to the rise of anti-Semitism and to send a message to Jobbik that they would not be intimidated.

    Jewish leaders told me that Prime Minister Victor Orban assured them he had dealt with the problem of militias

    Nevertheless, those who came to view the rally were shocked by what they saw. At a training session for the Magyar Nemzeti Garda (Hungarian National Guard) militia, the group wore full military uniforms, displayed a clear military-style structure, but claimed it was not a violent organisation. It has taken part in distributing food and clothes to the homeless and given blood en masse to the Red Cross.

    Its leader, Joseph, laid out the group’s ideas to us: “We have a domestic problem that is the gypsy criminality and an external problem that is the Jew expansion.”

    When asked about the past suffering of Hungarian Jews, he replied: “If we want to remember victims, in my mind the holocaust is not the biggest tragedy. This has nothing to do with me. It doesn’t interest me. I don’t deny it, I’m just not interested.”

    Less than a century after Hungarian Jews were shot and their bodies dumped in the Danube by the Arrow Guard, fascist groups now openly wear the Arrow Guard logo, and statues of Hungarian nazi-Collaborator Miklós Horthy have been re-erected in parts of the country.

    The militias play an important role for Jobbik, as we learned in small town of Gyongyospata, where a Jobbik mayor is now in charge.

    Tensions in the town exploded in 2011. Nationalists blamed the small Roma population for the suicide of a local, and thousands of black-shirted militia members arrived to patrol the streets. Jobbik held rallies outside the homes of gypsies and there were violent clashes. In the aftermath the village became a party stronghold.

    The Roma say they played no role in the man’s death, and even brought us to meet his son, who confirmed their side of the story. They said over 2,000 journalists have been to the town but never sought to clarify the truth behind Jobbik’s claim.

    The difference in the Roma side of town is astonishing: the roads are unpaved and homes are run-down.

    The difference in the Roma side of town is astonishing: the roads are unpaved and homes are run-down. The mayor says he is helping the Roma by providing work but many have already fled the town.

    Across Europe, far-right organisations have been enjoying increased success on the streets or in the ballot boxes. Greece’s Golden Dawn holds 18 seats in parliament and Bulgaria’s extremist Ataka have 23 seats.

    The deputy leader of Jobbik told Channel 4 News of his admiration for Ukip. The parties have little in common but share their opposition to the EU, and both have made rapid gains off the issue.

    Unlike Ukip, Jobbik plans to strengthen its ties to places the near East and, more specifically, Iran. The town of Tiszavasvari, the “Jobbik capital” has been twinned with the Iranian city of Ardabil. The partnership has been called an “anti-Semitic alliance”.

    In Budapest, the real-world effects of the party’s extremist rhetoric is clear. A report prepared for the World Jewish Congress showed how spontaneous anti-Semitic attacks are growing.

    Jobbik told Channel 4 News it now wants the secret service to start investigating Jewish people involved in public life in the country.

    A simple shout goes up from one drunken reveller: ‘What are these Jews doing here?’ And then a glass of beer is poured over me.

    At the party’s May day festival, Nazi-tattoo-wearing skinheads rubbed shoulders with ordinary Hungarians. The crowd swells to over 7,000 people, all gathered under the Jobbik flag to watch rock bands and listen to speeches.

    While shooting our report, a simple shout goes up from one drunken reveller: “What are these Jews doing here?” And then a glass of beer is poured over me. I’m slapped in the head and the crew is forced to leave.

    A small example of how speeches from a stage can translate into action on the ground. The worst violence came in 2009, though, when six gypsies were murdered in attacks involving guns, hand grenades and homemade explosives. Four nationalists currently remain on trial for these crimes.

  12. Allan Wolman Says:

    Please Howard would you send this piece from The Independent to Independent Newspapers in South Africa – a press group that is openly hostile to Israel and carries much support for the local BDS movement.
    The chairman of this news group emphatically claims that Independent newspapers in S.Africa carry no bias whatsoever. Robert Fisk is an all time favorite of this group therefore printing your piece might be an interesting challenge to the chairman’s claim.

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