Why Israelis are content to live in a bubble of denial

o13-iconJonathan Cook writes: The 24-hour visit by German chancellor Angela Merkel to Israel this week came as relations between the two countries hit rock bottom. According to a report in Der Spiegel magazine last week, Ms Merkel and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netan­yahu have been drawn into shouting matches when discussing by phone the faltering peace process.

Despite their smiles to the cameras during the visit, tension behind the scenes has been heightened by a diplomatic bust-up earlier this month when Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament and himself German, gave a speech to the Israeli parliament.

In unprecedented scenes, a group of Israeli legislators heckled Mr Schulz, calling him a “liar”, and then staged a walkout, led by the economics minister Naftali Bennett. Rather than apologising, Mr Netanyahu intervened to lambast Mr Schulz for being misinformed.

Mr Schulz, who, like Ms Merkel, is considered a close friend of Israel, used his speech vehemently to oppose growing calls in Europe for a boycott of Israel. So how did he trigger such opprobrium?

Mr Schulz’s main offence was posing a question: was it true, as he had heard in meetings in the West Bank, that Israelis have access to four times more water than Palestinians? He further upset legislators by gently suggesting that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was preventing economic growth there.

Neither statement should have been in the least controversial. Figures from independent bodies such as the World Bank show Israel, which dominates the local water supplies, allocates per capita about 4.4 times more water to its population than to Palestinians.

Equally, it would be hard to imagine that years of denying goods and materials to Gaza, and blocking exports, have not ravaged its economy. The unemployment rate, for example, has increased 6 per cent, to 38.5 per cent, following Israel’s recent decision to prevent the transfer of construction materials to Gaza’s private sector.

But Israelis rarely hear such facts from their politicians or the media. And few are willing to listen when a rare voice like Mr Schulz’s intervenes. Israelis have grown content to live in a large bubble of denial. [Continue reading...]

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Why is the American elite scared of BDS?

f13-iconTithi Bhattacharya and Bill V. Mullen write: Since the American Studies Association (ASA) voted overwhelmingly to boycott Israeli academic institutions in December, more than one hundred and fifty U.S. University Presidents have come out in support of Israel and condemned the ASA’s vote. Some of these administrators, such as the Presidents of IU and Kenyon College, have withdrawn their institutional membership from the ASA, and all of them have made their public pronouncements without any consultations with their faculty or elected university bodies.

More recently, bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives titled “The Protect Academic Freedom Act” would, if passed, strip all federal funds from any institution of higher education that boycotts Israel.

The bill follows close by legislation put forward by the New York State and Maryland State legislatures that would punish individual academics for engaging in political boycotts. New York Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver in announcing the bill explained that the ASA boycott was a “blatant assault on the academic freedoms that New York and its students have come to hold dear.”

What the University Presidents and legislators also have in common in this joint enterprise is a total silence about Palestinian human rights and academic freedom, the basis of the ASA resolution. The ASA Resolution was premised in part on the well-documented fact that “there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation, and Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students.”

Supporting documentation for the resolution detailed how bombings, school closures, visa restriction, restricted movement in and out of Palestinian territories, and Israeli control of funding for Palestinian universities all significantly erode both human rights and academic freedom for Palestinian scholars.

Given the American state’s well-established “special relationship” to Israel, how can we best understand this ideological convergence between the heads of academic institutions and the US Government?

In this essay, we argue that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement has helped to expose the historical complicity not just of Israeli Universities with an illegal, militarized occupation, but of American Universities in the supportive exercise of U.S. military and political power in the Middle East. Specifically, we argue that the U.S. university since 9/11 and under neoliberalism has leaped to project American imperial power in the Middle East and across the world. The ASA Boycott has been confronted by this reality, and confronted it, head on. The success of the BDS movement against Israel does, however, present new opportunities for challenging this militarization not just of Israel’s occupation and U.S. universities, but the wider social arena under capitalism. [Continue reading...]

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BDS: A campaign that is gathering weight

n13-iconThe Economist: Once derided as the scheming of crackpots, the campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, widely known as BDS, is turning mainstream. That, at any rate, is the fear of a growing number of Israelis. Some European pension funds have withdrawn investments; some large corporations have cancelled contracts; and the American secretary of state, John Kerry, rarely misses a chance to warn Israel that efforts to “delegitimise” and boycott it will increase if its government spurns his efforts to conclude a two-state settlement of its conflict with the Palestinians. Israel, says Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister, is approaching the same “tipping point” where South Africa found itself in opposition to the rest of the world in the dying days of apartheid. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” he told a conference of security boffins recently in Tel Aviv. “The world listens to us less and less.”

BDS has begun to grab the attention of some of the world’s largest financial institutions. PGGM, a big Dutch pension fund, has liquidated its holdings in five Israeli banks (though the Netherlands’ largest has affirmed its investments). Norway’s finance ministry has announced that it is excluding Africa Israel Investments and its subsidiary, Danya Cebus, a big building firm, from a government pension fund.

The campaign is drawing support from beyond northern Europe. Romania has forbidden its citizens from working for companies in the West Bank. More churches are backing BDS. An American academic association is boycotting Israeli lecturers. The debate turned viral after Scarlett Johansson, a Hollywood actor, quit her role as ambassador for Oxfam, a charity based in Britain, in order to keep her advertising contract with SodaStream, an Israeli drinks firm with a plant on the West Bank.

Mr Lapid, who favours a two-state solution, reels out figures to show how sanctions could hit every Israeli pocket. “If negotiations with the Palestinians stall or blow up and we enter the reality of a European boycott, even a very partial one,” he warned, 10,000 Israelis would “immediately” lose their jobs. Trade with the European Union, a third of Israel’s total, would slump—he calculates—by $5.7 billion. [Continue reading...]

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Bill in Congress would punish academic boycott of Israel

n13-iconElectronic Intifada reports: Weeks after Ambassador Michael Oren, Israel’s former envoy to the United States, suggested it, members of the United States Congress have introduced a bill to punish American universities if their members support the academic boycott of Israeli institutions.

The so-called “Protect Academic Freedom Act” would deny federal funding to any institution that participates in a boycott of Israeli universities or scholars or even whose departments issue statements in support of a boycott.

The proposed law defines “an institution of higher education to be participating in a boycott” if “the institution, any significant part of the institution, or any organization significantly funded by the institution adopts a policy or resolution, issues a statement, or otherwise formally establishes the restriction of discourse, cooperation, exchange, or any other involvement with academic institutions or scholars on the basis of the connection of such institutions or such scholars to the state of Israel.” [Continue reading...]

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On sanctions, Israel hasn’t seen anything yet

o13-iconDaniel Levy writes: Israel’s governing coalition has been much seized of late by the issue of potential boycotts and sanctions in response to its policies in the occupied Palestinian territories. The centrist and rightist wings of Netanyahu’s coalition have been trading accusations over how severe the threat is, and who is to blame – is it the Livni-Lapid camp for acknowledging that boycotts are a problem, thereby encouraging the phenomenon?

Or is the Bennett-Miri Regev camp to blame for shouting from the rooftops about annexing the territories rather than quietly building on Palestinian hilltops as all Israeli governments have done for four decades? Israel’s cabinet even considered convening to officially respond to this threat. Public ministerial statements have followed familiar lines around whether to play nice with the peace process and deflect criticism (the centrist position) or to conduct a more effective PR and hasbara push-back campaign (the rightist position).

In the short term the right is correct in downplaying any sense of imminent economic disaster due to a boycott tsunami. In the longer term, the centrists get it in asserting that the globally connected Israeli economy and lifestyle will prove unsustainable as sanctions slowly but inevitably advance. But both sides are promoting an ill-informed and misleading discussion, perhaps intentionally. Much of that misinformation revolves around Europe’s role, unsurprising given Europe’s position as Israel’s leading trade partner and as the likely source of most sanctions momentum.

Israelis need to know five things about this so-called boycott debate that are too often obscured. [Continue reading...]

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How activism is succeeding where negotiations have failed

o13-iconRami G. Khouri writes: If you think the controversy of actress Scarlett Johansson’s relationships with Oxfam and the Israeli company SodaStream is a minor side story about Hollywood celebrities, think again.

This is the latest signal of a major direction of Palestinian and global activism against Israeli settler-colonial policies in the occupied Palestinian territories, which reveals Israel’s weak spot globally and its growing isolation because of its occupation and treatment of Palestinians.

Johansson resigned her post Wednesday as a global goodwill ambassador for the developmental charity Oxfam after coming under intense international criticism for her contradictory role as a spokesperson for Sodastream, which manufactures carbonation machines in the Israeli settlement of Mishor Adumin in the occupied West Bank. The argument against her was simply that she could not feed the jailer and the prisoner at the same time – she could not support the good work of Oxfam in improving people’s lives around the world, while simultaneously promoting an Israeli company whose factory in the occupied West Bank perpetuates the subjugation of Palestinians and their denial of national and personal rights.

This highlights how Israelis and Palestinians confront each other in three principal arenas of conflict and conflict resolution: military attacks; diplomatic negotiations; and, grassroots activism based on legal and ethical principles. The first two modes of Palestinian-Israeli interaction – warfare and negotiations – have continued unabated since the 1930s, without achieving the desired goals of either side.

This is why the third option – populist activism on moral and legal grounds – has emerged recently on the Palestinian side as the most significant new development in decades, and continues to pick up steam and worry the Israelis, as it should. I refer mainly to the movement for the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) of Israel for its denial of Palestinian human rights in three related arenas: the second-class status of Palestinian citizens of Israel; the Apartheid-like conditions Israel imposes on Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip; and the structural denial of rights to exiled Palestinian refugees living outside of historic Palestine. [Continue reading...]

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Why Israel fears the boycott

OpinionOmar Barghouti writes: If Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to revive talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority fail because of Israel’s continuing construction of illegal settlements, the Israeli government is likely to face an international boycott “on steroids,” as Mr. Kerry warned last August.

These days, Israel seems as terrified by the “exponential” growth of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (or B.D.S.) movement as it is by Iran’s rising clout in the region. Last June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively declared B.D.S. a strategic threat. Calling it the “delegitimization” movement, he assigned the overall responsibility for fighting it to his Strategic Affairs Ministry. But B.D.S. doesn’t pose an existential threat to Israel; it poses a serious challenge to Israel’s system of oppression of the Palestinian people, which is the root cause of its growing worldwide isolation.

The Israeli government’s view of B.D.S. as a strategic threat reveals its heightened anxiety at the movement’s recent spread into the mainstream. It also reflects the failure of the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s well-endowed “Brand Israel” campaign, which reduces B.D.S. to an image problem and employs culture as a propaganda tool, sending well-known Israeli figures around the world to show Israel’s prettier face. [Continue reading...]

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Israeli mainstream media recognizes the significance of the boycott

Larry Derfner writes: On Saturday night the boycott of Israel gained an impressive new level of mainstream recognition in this country. Channel 2 News, easily the most watched, most influential news show here, ran a heavily-promoted, 16-minute piece on the boycott in its 8 p.m. prime-time program. The piece was remarkable not only for its length and prominence, but even more so because it did not demonize the boycott movement, it didn’t blame the boycott on anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing. Instead, top-drawer reporter Dana Weiss treated the boycott as an established, rapidly growing presence that sprang up because of Israel’s settlement policy and whose only remedy is that policy’s reversal.

In her narration, Weiss ridicules the settlers and the government’s head-in-the-sand reaction to the rising tide. The segment from the West Bank’s Barkan Industrial Park opens against a background of twangy guitar music like from a Western. “To the world it’s a black mark, a symbol of the occupation,” she reads. “But here they insist it’s actually a point of light in the area, an island of coexistence that continues to flourish despite efforts to erase it from the map.” A factory owner who moved his business to Barkan from the other side of the Green Line makes a fool of himself by saying, “If the state would only assist us by boycotting the Europeans and other countries causing us trouble …” The Barkan segment ends with the manager of Shamir Salads saying that between the European and Palestinian boycott, he’s losing about $115,000 to $143,000 a month in sales. “In my view,” he says, “it will spread from [the West Bank] to other places in Israel that have no connection to the territories.”

Weiss likewise ridicules Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who runs the government’s “hasbara war,” as he puts it. Weiss: “Yes, in the Foreign Ministry they are for the time being sticking to the old conception: it’s all a question of hasbara. This week the campaign’s new weapon, developed with the contributions of world Jewry: (Pause) Another hasbara agency, this time with the original name ‘Face To Israel.’” She quotes the co-owner of Psagot Winery saying the boycott is “nothing to get excited about,” that people have been boycotting Jews for 2,000 years, and concluding, “If you ask me, in the last 2,000 years, our situation today is the best it’s ever been.” That final phrase, along with what Weiss describes as Elkin’s “conceptzia,” are the same infamous words that Israelis associate with the fatal complacency that preceded the surprise Yom Kippur War. [Continue reading...]

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Are you or have you ever been a member of the ASA? New York legislators to move to ban funds to schools associated with Israeli boycott

Jonathan Turley writes: We previously discussed how the American Studies Association joined a growing boycott of Israeli institutions, which is part of an even broader boycott of Israeli goods in many stores. There are good points to be made on both sides, including the absence of such boycotts for Chinese institutions and those of other abusive nations. However, we should all be able to agree that the response of New York legislator Dov Hikind is excessive and absurd. Hikind is showing his support for Israel by pushing legislation to cut off money to colleges involved in American Studies Association. He ignores the fact that the ASA resolution is non-binding and an expression of opposition to Israel’s policies as opposed to an enforceable ban. However, he wants to cut off whole institutions for even a loose association with a group that has condemned Israel. It is precisely the type of unhinged reaction that has distorted the debate over Middle East policies. He is being joined by Jeffrey Klein (right), another Democrat.

Hikind is planning to formally introduce the legislation early next year that would cut off state aid to schools that retain membership in the ASA. Under their plan, all money would be cut off from both private and public schools if they remain in the ASA. It is hard not to see the analogy with McCarthyism. Are you or have you been a member of the ASA? [Continue reading...]

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Boycott by American academics has a particular sting for Israel

The New York Times reports: An American organization of professors on Monday announced a boycott of Israeli academic institutions to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, signaling that a movement to isolate and pressure Israel that is gaining ground in Europe has begun to make strides in the United States.

Members of the American Studies Association voted by a ratio of more than two to one to endorse the boycott in online balloting that concluded Sunday night, the group said.

With fewer than 5,000 members, the group is not one of the larger scholarly associations. But its vote is a milestone for a Palestinian movement known as B.D.S., for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions, which for the past decade had found little traction in the United States. The American Studies Association is the second American academic group to back the boycott, movement organizers say, following the Association for Asian American Studies, which did so in April.

“It’s almost like a family betrayal,” said Manuel Trajtenberg, a leading Israeli scholar. “It’s very grave and very saddening that this happens, particularly so in the U.S.,” he said.

Dr. Trajtenberg, an economics professor at Tel Aviv University, earned his doctorate at Harvard and like many Israeli academics has had frequent sabbaticals at American universities.

Israel has strong trade ties with Western Europe, where the B.D.S. campaign has won some backing for economic measures, a particular concern for Israelis. Last week a Dutch company, Vitens, announced that it would not do business with Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, because of Israel’s policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel recently faced a potential crisis when it seemed its universities and companies would lose out on some $700 million for research from a European Union program after new guidelines prohibited investment in any institutions operating in territory Israel seized in the 1967 war. Israeli academics were reeling at the possibility that they would be punished over government policy toward the Palestinians, until Israeli and European officials struck a deal late last month to allow Israel to participate.

In April, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland endorsed an academic boycott of Israel, and several times in recent years there have been strong efforts within Britain’s largest professors’ group, the University and College Union, to do the same.

Israelis have long seen Europe as more hostile — even anti-Semitic in some pockets — but a slap from the United States has a particular sting. [Continue reading...]

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Academics should boycott Israel: Growing movement takes next step

Steven Salaita, an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, writes: In recent years, we have seen greater recognition in the United States that religious acrimony and ancient blood feuds are not the source of the Israel-Palestine conflict, whose progenitor in fact is Jewish colonization. As this recognition grows, along with corresponding support for Palestinian human rights, unprecedented pressure bears on Israel’s defenders to maintain the once-dominant narratives of Israeli victimhood and Palestinian terror.

These days, Israel is an extremely difficult state to defend.

It should be so. Israel continues to make a mockery of the “peace process” by constructing new settlements and insulting American leaders. It tolerates politicians who routinely make racist statements. And it continues to be in violation of at least 77 United Nations Resolutions and numerous provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The latest challenge to these violations comes from the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions movement, which has attracted the attention of pro-Israel advocacy groups and the Israeli government itself, thus validating the efficacy of the tactic. A specific element of BDS, academic boycott, was recently ratified by the Association of Asian American Studies and enjoys overwhelming support among the membership of the American Studies Association, whose National Council today voted to affirm a resolution honoring the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli universities.

Although at first glance academic boycott seems vengeful and arbitrary, its mission is rigorous and ethical, perfectly concordant to comparable boycotts that earned widespread support in the United States (against apartheid South Africa, for instance, or Arizona when it refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day). [Continue reading...]

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When it comes to Israel, EU no longer willing to act like a sucker

Alan Philps writes: On Sunday, the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy published a startling article. As a patriotic Israeli, he wrote in Haaretz newspaper, he had no choice but to declare himself in favour of an economic boycott of his own country until it withdrew from the occupied territories. Given the prospects of “another round of deep stalemate” – a reference to US secretary of state John Kerry’s best efforts to rekindle Israeli-Palestinian peace talks – only sanctions would make Israel change.

Mr Levy is a maverick in Israeli journalism, a lone figure trying to stand in the way of the juggernaut of the Israeli state as it settles ever more Palestinian land. His article was greeted with a shrug, perhaps barely even that.

Two days later, it emerged that the European Union, after many years of dithering, had decided that it would not support any settler projects in the occupied territories. None of its grants, prizes or other sorts of funding would be available to settler entities or institutions, and Israel would have to formally accept this condition in applying for funds.

This news was not greeted with a shrug. One Israeli official called it an “earthquake”. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a defiant statement that Israel would never accept foreign “dictates” on its borders. There were dark hints about the “unhelpful” timing of the move: Yair Lapid, the finance minister, said it would “sabotage” the Kerry mission by encouraging the Palestinians to believe that Israel could be subject to outside pressure.

The move is of little financial significance, but deeply symbolic. The “green line” marking the border between internationally recognised Israel and the occupied territory has long disappeared from Israeli maps. The road network already knits the Jewish settlements seamlessly with major Israeli towns.

The 28 member states of the European Union are not going to change those facts on the ground, and the decision does not immediately affect Israel’s $40 billion trade with the EU. But it does mark a belated stiffening of the European backbone. [Continue reading...]

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The Israeli patriot’s final refuge: boycott

Gideon Levy writes: Anyone who really fears for the future of the country needs to be in favor at this point of boycotting it economically.

A contradiction in terms? We have considered the alternatives. A boycott is the least of all evils, and it could produce historic benefits. It is the least violent of the options and the one least likely to result in bloodshed. It would be painful like the others, but the others would be worse.

On the assumption that the current status quo cannot continue forever, it is the most reasonable option to convince Israel to change. Its effectiveness has already been proven. More and more Israelis have become concerned recently about the threat of the boycott. When Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warns about it spreading and calls as a result for the diplomatic deadlock to be broken, she provides proof of the need for a boycott. She and others are therefore joining the boycott, divestment and sanction movement. Welcome to the club.

The change won’t come from within. That has been clear for a long time. As long as Israelis don’t pay a price for the occupation, or at least don’t make the connection between cause and effect, they have no incentive to bring it to an end. And why should the average resident of Tel Aviv be bothered by what is happening in the West Bank city of Jenin or Rafah in the Gaza Strip? Those places are far away and not particularly interesting. As long as the arrogance and self-victimization continue among the Chosen People, the most chosen in the world, always the only victim, the world’s explicit stance won’t change a thing. [Continue reading...]

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On the American Association of University Professors’ opposition to academic boycotts

David Lloyd writes: On 10 May 2013, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a “Statement on Academic Boycotts” which states, not for the first time, its “opposition to academic boycotts as a matter of principle.” The statement was issued in response to two recent victories for the movement for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel: physicist Stephen Hawking’s recent announcement that he would not attend a major conference in Israel, and the Association for Asian American Studies’ (AAAS) adoption of a resolution at their national conference in April to endorse the academic boycott. As the momentum for the academic boycott of Israel builds globally, the AAUP seems to be desperately trying to stem the tide. Of course, the AAUP’s statement is nothing new and shows the organization to be as incoherent and ill-informed on the academic and cultural boycott of Israel as it has proven to be since 2006. In that year, it succumbed to outside pressure and withdrew support for an AAUP-sponsored conference on academic boycott at the Rockefeller Conference Center in Bellagio—thus effectively engaging in censorship.

In the first place, the recent AAUP statement is factually misleading. The academic boycott is not merely being “advocated by some pro-Palestinian groups,” nor did Stephen Hawking make his decision based on the call of “pro-Palestinian groups.” He did so, according to his own statement, in response to the appeal of Palestinian scholars— just as the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) has responded to the call of over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations that have endorsed the Palestinian call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. What the AAUP seeks to disguise by its framing of the issue is that the academic boycott has never been the work of some small pressure groups in the United States, but represents a global movement that is seeking a non-violent means to end the systematic dispossession of and discrimination against the Palestinian people. In this respect, it resembles the boycott movement against South Africa’s apartheid regime, which the AAUP in fact supported, with the difference that whereas that movement did call for individual boycotts of South African scholars, cultural workers, and sports persons, PACBI’s call is specifically and exclusively institutional. [Continue reading...]

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Stephen Hawking’s boycott hits Israel where it hurts: science

Hilary Rose and Steven Rose write: Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott the Israeli president’s conference has gone viral. Over 100,000 Facebook shares of the Guardian report at last count. Whatever the subsequent fuss, Hawking’s letter is unequivocal. His refusal was made because of requests from Palestinian academics.

Witness the speed with which the pro-Israel lobby seized on Cambridge University’s initial false claim that he had withdrawn on health grounds to denounce the boycott movement, and their embarrassment when within a few hours the university shamefacedly corrected itself. Hawking also made it clear that if he had gone he would have used the occasion to criticise Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

While journalists named him “the poster boy of the academic boycott” and supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement celebrated, Ha’aretz, the most progressive of the Israeli press, drew attention to the inflammatory language used by the conference organisers, who described themselves as “outraged” rather than that they “regretted” Hawking’s decision.

That the world’s most famous scientist had recognised the justice of the Palestinian cause is potentially a turning point for the BDS campaign. And that his stand was approved by a majority of two to one in the Guardian poll that followed his announcement shows just how far public opinion has turned against Israel’s relentless land-grabbing and oppression.

Hawking’s public refusal follows that of prominent singers, artists and writers, from Brian Eno to Mike Leigh, Alice Walker and Adrienne Rich, all of whom have publicly rejected invitations to perform in Israel. But what winds Israel up is the fact that this rejection is by a famous scientist and that science and technology drive its economy. Hawking’s decision threatens to open a floodgate with more and more scientists coming to regard Israel as a pariah state. [Continue reading...]

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Video: Stephen Hawking and the growing Israel boycott movement

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