Physicist Stephen Hawking has cancelled a planned visit to Israel, and after some confusion it appears he did so in sympathy with a boycott of Israel promoted by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine.
Critics of Hawking say that by joining the boycott he has thrown in with anti-Semites, or at the very least undermined the spirit of academic inquiry by closing down dialogue.”It is always dismaying to see intelligent men and women commit themselves to a tactic that relies on stymieing dialogue and curbing the free exchange of ideas,” writes Liel Leibovitz.
I think both charges miss the point. I’m not offended that Hawking is refusing to travel to a country whose policies he doesn’t like — I can think of many instances where that would be understandable, and many countries people would prefer to avoid. If the goal were to shame Israel into a just resolution of the conflict and a return to negotiations toward self-determination for two peoples and two lands, even some left-wing Zionists would at least understand, if not support, his decision.
But BCUIP is not a “peace” group — it is an anti-Zionist group that does not believe in the legitimacy of Israel in any form. Its stated mission is:
to oppose the continued illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands with its concomitant breaches of international conventions of human rights, its refusal to accept UN resolutions or rulings of the International Court, and its persistent suppression of Palestinian academic freedom.
Do you get that? Palestinian lands. That’s pretty unspecific. They are not interested in negotiations, a fair division of the land, just and secure borders and self-determination for Jews and Palestinians. I’ve spent time on their site, and can’t find any reference to a future that includes Israel. Nor can I find any indication of what Israel would have to do for the boycott to be lifted. Unlike supporters of the boycott in South Africa (to which they compare themselves), BCUIP, like many BDS groups, offers no vision of what Israel needs to do to return to the world’s good graces. It’s not just that they are trying to hold Israel hostage to a one-sided, ahistorical, context-free and almost cartoonish portrayal of the conflict. It is a hostage situation with no list of demands.