The physicist’s refusal to attend an academic conference has fired up emotions on the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement against Israel.
The pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement claimed a major victory when renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking declined an invitation to speak at a conference in Israel earlier this month. Hawking joins a growing number of artists and academics who have declined public appearances in Israel, including Pink Floyd guitarist Roger Waters and Indian author Arundhati Roy. His refusal has sent shockwaves through the pro-Israel community, prompting a vociferous backlash against Hawking and the BDS campaign.
In a recent debate at the City University of New York, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz lashed out at Hawking with ad hominem attacks claiming that he was both an “anti-Semite” and a “lemming.”
“He [Hawking] accepted the invitation 2 months ago. What happened — did the Israelis start the occupation in the last 2 months? He got a lot of pressure in 2 months,” Dershowitz said.
“The love of the Palestinian people is largely a function of the hatred of the nation-state of the Jewish people,” he added. “People who don’t care about the Kurds, who don’t care about the Armenians, who don’t care about the Tibetans, who didn’t give a damn about the Cambodians, who didn’t say a word about the people of Rwanda and the people of Darfur, suddenly have discovered the Palestinian people.”
Despite the objections of Dershowitz and other pro-Israel groups, the BDS tide appears to be rising after Hawking refused to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference, an event bringing together 5,000 academics and public officials from around the world each year. Launched in 2005, BDS remains a small but growing movement dedicated to pressuring the Israeli government into abandoning military occupation and settlement policies seen by BDS supporters as destructive to the prospect of peace.
Grammy-winning guitarist Carlos Santana canceled a 2010 performance because of BDS pressure. Internationally known musicians Elvis Costello and Gil Scott-Heron followed suit, both canceling visits the same year while citing personal opposition to war and Israeli policies that hurt the Palestinian people and the chances for peace.
More recently, in 2012, NBA basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar canceled a trip to promote a basketball documentary. The list keeps growing with the recent addition of Stephen Hawking to that group, and BDS proponents hope that Hawking’s prominence in his field will encourage others to do the same.
“It will be easier now for other academics who have been supportive of Palestinian rights but were reluctant to act on their support,” said Samia Botmeh, director of the Center for Development Studies at Birzeit University in the West Bank and a member of the steering committee of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
This occurs as Israel ramps up the construction of illegal settlements on the West Bank. There are more than 500,000 Jewish settlers living in settlement blocs, consuming land that Palestinians hope will form the backbone of their future state. As of March, there were 4,764 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners held in Israeli prisons. Hundreds continue to be held without charge or due process of law.