I’ve really tried to understand the Israelis. I used to work on a farm in Israel. I speak Hebrew. I watch their news. All the time they talk about fear. How they have to run to their bunkers to hide from the rockets. How their children can’t sleep because of the sirens. This is not a good way for them to live. We Palestinians don’t talk about fear, we talk about death. Our rockets scare them; their rockets kill us. We have no bomb shelters, we have no sirens, we have nowhere we can take our children and keep them safe. They are scared. We are dying.
Professor Stephen Hawking is backing the academic boycott of Israel by pulling out of a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Hawking, 71, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had accepted an invitation to headline the fifth annual president’s conference, Facing Tomorrow, in June, which features major international personalities, attracts thousands of participants and this year will celebrate Peres’s 90th birthday.
Hawking is in very poor health, but last week he wrote a brief letter to the Israeli president to say he had changed his mind. He has not announced his decision publicly, but a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking’s approval described it as “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”.
Hawking’s decision marks another victory in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli academic institutions.
In April the Teachers’ Union of Ireland became the first lecturers’ association in Europe to call for an academic boycott of Israel, and in the United States members of the Association for Asian American Studies voted to support a boycott, the first national academic group to do so.
In the four weeks since Hawking’s participation in the Jerusalem event was announced, he has been bombarded with messages from Britain and abroad as part of an intense campaign by boycott supporters trying to persuade him to change his mind. In the end, Hawking told friends, he decided to follow the advice of Palestinian colleagues who unanimously agreed that he should not attend.
Hawking’s decision met with abusive responses on Facebook, with many commentators focusing on his physical condition, and some accusing him of antisemitism.
By participating in the boycott, Hawking joins a small but growing list of British personalities who have turned down invitations to visit Israel, including Elvis Costello, Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Annie Lennox and Mike Leigh.
However, many artists, writers and academics have defied and even denounced the boycott, calling it ineffective and selective. Ian McEwan, who was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 2011, responded to critics by saying: “If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed … It’s not great if everyone stops talking.”
Noam Chomsky, a prominent supporter of the Palestinian cause, has said that he supports the “boycott and divestment of firms that are carrying out operations in the occupied territories” but that a general boycott of Israel is “a gift to Israeli hardliners and their American supporters”.
Hawking has visited Israel four times in the past. Most recently, in 2006, he delivered public lectures at Israeli and Palestinian universities as the guest of the British embassy in Tel Aviv. At the time, he said he was “looking forward to coming out to Israel and the Palestinian territories and excited about meeting both Israeli and Palestinian scientists”.
Since then, his attitude to Israel appears to have hardened. In 2009, Hawking denounced Israel’s three-week attack on Gaza, telling Riz Khan on Al-Jazeera that Israel’s response to rocket fire from Gaza was “plain out of proportion … The situation is like that of South Africa before 1990 and cannot continue.”
Israel Maimon, chairman of the presidential conference said: “This decision is outrageous and wrong.
“The use of an academic boycott against Israel is outrageous and improper, particularly for those to whom the spirit of liberty is the basis of the human and academic mission. Israel is a democracy in which everyone can express their opinion, whatever it may be. A boycott decision is incompatible with open democratic discourse.”
In 2011, the Israeli parliament passed a law making a boycott call by an individual or organisation a civil offence which can result in compensation liable to be paid regardless of actual damage caused. It defined a boycott as “deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or another factor only because of his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage”
Related: An Israeli law centre has since released a statement suggesting Professor Stephen Hawking cuts off the computer-based system which he relies on to communicate.
“His whole computer-based communications system runs on a chip designed by Israel’s Intel team. I suggest if he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Shurat HaDin.
Remember when FIFA crushed Iran’s dreams of participating in the Olympics because “their Islamic dress broke Fifa rules”? Yea, that broke my fucking heart.
Over the three years of the Korean War, in the words of General Curtis LeMay, the US Air Force “burned down every town in North and South Korea”. The US used 12,000 pound “Tarzan” bombs until there were no more targets for them, in addition to thousands upon thousands of bombing sorties. Thousand pound napalm bombs were dropped from B-29s to “wipe out all life” in tactical localities. Towards the end of the war, the US bombed North Korea’s dams. One resulting flood “scooped clean” 27 miles of river valley.
Moreover, it is the US which has made repeated nuclear threats against North Korea, despite the fact that North Korea has never posed a serious threat to the US. The use of nuclear weapons was considered several times during the Korean War, both tactical and strategic. In April 1951, B-29s with nuclear weapons were deployed to Guam, ready for use if China escalated its conventional involvement in the war. Later in the war, lone B-29s simulated nuclear attack runs on Pyongyang. Over the course of the war, a million North Korean civilians were killed by US, UN and South Korean forces.
This history offers some perspective on the recent crisis, which began not with North Korean threats but with US and South Korean war games and manoeuvres. These included practice sorties by two nuclear capable B-2 stealth bombers sent over South Korea, loudly announced in the media so that the point would not be lost on North Korea’s leaders.
North Korea responded with bombast, including the incredible notion that it was preparing an amphibious invasion of the US. Guam, still a base for US nuclear bombers, was “threatened” by North Korea’s jury-rigged missiles. In turn, the US deployed its equally ineffective but much more expensive THAAD missile defence system to Guam.