Stephen Hawking’s announcement that he is joining the Palestinian academic boycott on Israel is both hypocritical and counterproductive. By spurning the invitation to President Shimon Peres’s presidential conference for this spurious reason, this widely-respected scientist has sacrificed his credibility on the altar of Palestinian extremism and anti-Zionism. This is a man who has traveled to Iran and China with no compunction. This is a man who has not repudiated the United Kingdom or the United States for the controversial moves they have made in the fight against Islamist terrorism. And yet, he cannot visit liberal democratic Israel, to attend a conference convened by its left-leaning, peace-seeking President.
Boy, it is quite a coincidence. If we lived in a world in which some progressives boycotted Iran, and others boycotted China, and others boycotted Israel, perhaps Israel would take Hawking’s criticism more to heart. But the trendy selectivity of the pile-on is not credible. When, again and again, Israel is the first and only country fashionable intellectuals decide to boycott, we have to take former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s advice and challenge the “accuser” not the “accused.”
Hawking’s decision gives the totalitarian anti-Zionists a victory they do not deserve. Like it or not, it puts him in league with the obstructionists, the extremists, the exterminationists. Boycotting a country is the equivalent of a blunt, lethal machete not a delicate scalpel. It rejects the country itself, not some of its controversial policies, saying that its actions are so heinous—so much worse than other countries you choose not to boycott—that you cannot interact with anyone there, with any aspect of civil society, even its critics.
This approach is not just an obstacle to peace it is the obstacle to peace. Anyone boycotting Israel allies with the polarizers, the fanatics, who make it difficult to achieve a two-state solution. If the fight between Israelis and Palestinians is a black-white, good guys versus bad guys, do-or-die fight, wherein one is cast as heroic and the other cast as so unacceptable as to be intolerable, the conflict becomes insoluble. Progressives who enable Palestinian extremists and exterminationists who want to destroy the Jewish state should take responsibility for their actions and acknowledge who their allies are and who they are making happy.
As long as Palestinians view Israelis as boycott-worthy, Israelis will have had a hard time trusting them in a peace process. These kinds of extremist actions therefore make peace more unattainable and block any kind of progress toward a two-state solution. Moreover, the author of “A Brief History of Time” has demonstrated spectacularly bad timing. His boycott comes at a time when President Barack Obama is trying to restart the Middle East peace process, with subtle signs suggesting that both sides are trying to cooperate. Hawking’s announcement came days after word leaked the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stopped approved construction tenders on the West Bank. It came a day before his special emissary on Palestinian affairs, Tzippi Livni, met with John Kerry in Washington. Just how does Hawking’s all-encompassing hostility help?
If Hawking had wanted to help, he could have traveled to Jerusalem, and traveled to Ramallah, too. He could have, as I have done, given a guest lecture in al-Quds University or another Palestinian university, showing those students and professors great respect, shining a light on them and their efforts. He could have made some symbolic gesture showing that he was pro-Palestinian as well as pro-Israeli. Instead, he suggested that the dynamics of the conflict are mutually exclusive, and that to prove he is pro-Palestinian he had to act anti-Israeli. I find that move—like most readers found his books—incomprehensible.