Rooted in a decades-long tradition of Palestinian Arab popular resistance against settler colonialism, and inspired by the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the BDS movement for Palestinian rights takes to heart the words of Archbishop Tutu: “We do not want our chains comfortable. We want them removed.”
By appealing to people of conscience around the world to help end Israel’s three-tiered system of oppression, the BDS movement is not asking for anything heroic, but for fulfilling a profound moral obligation to desist from complicity in oppression. Given the billions of dollars lavished on Israel annually by western states, particularly the United States and Germany, taxpayers in those countries are in effect subsidising Israel’s violations of international law at a time when social programmes are undergoing severe cuts, unemployment is rising, and the environment is being devastated.
Striving to end western complicity in Israel’s violations of international law is not only good for the Palestinians; it is certainly good for those around the world struggling for social justice and against perpetual war.
Building on its global ascendance, the BDS movement – led by the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society, the BDS National Committee – is spreading, and scoring significant victories.
Multimillion dollar campaigns by Israel’s foreign ministry to counter the BDS by “rebranding” through art and science have largely failed. With impressive successes in the economic and cultural fields, and with the increasing impact of its Israeli supporters, BDS is viewed by Israel’s establishment as a “strategic threat” to its system of oppression. This explains the Israeli Knesset’s passage of a draconian anti-boycott law last year that drops the last mask of Israel’s supposed democracy.
Reflecting the devastating deterioration in Israel’s standing in the world, a BBC poll last year showed Israel competing with North Korea as the third-worst-perceived country in the world in the opinion of large majorities in Europe and elsewhere.
The African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party, voiced support for BDS in December. The Association for Asian-American Studies endorsed the academic boycott of Israel, becoming the first professional academic association in the world to do so. The Federation of French-Speaking Belgian Students, representing 100,000 members, adopted the boycott of Israeli academic institutions a few weeks ago, and so did the Teachers’ Union of Ireland.
Student councils at several North American universities, including University of California Berkeley, are pressuring administrators to divest from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation.
The University of Johannesburg in 2011 severed links with Ben Gurion University over human-rights violations.
Trade union federations with millions of members have also endorsed BDS – in South Africa, Britain, Ireland, India, Brazil, Norway, Canada, Italy, France, Belgium and Turkey, among others.
Veolia and Alstom, two European corporations involved in Israeli projects in violation of international law, have lost contracts worth billions of dollars.
Some global firms are being moved by the pressure. The British Co-op supermarket chain, the fifth largest in the UK, for instance, has adopted a policy of boycotting Israeli agricultural companies operating in the occupied Palestinian territory. Deutsche Bahn, a German government-controlled rail company, pulled out of an Israeli project encroaching on occupied Palestinian land.
Even world-renowned artists – including, Roger Waters, Zakir Hussain, The Pixies, Elvis Costello, Natasha Atlas, Cat Power, Vanessa Paradis and Cassandra Wilson – have cancelled performances in Israel, heeding the cultural boycott and transforming Tel Aviv into the new Sun City. A statement calling for the boycott of an Israeli theatre company that performs in Israel’s illegal colonies in defiance of international law won the endorsement of top theatre and film figures in the UK, including Emma Thompson.
“Besiege your siege” – the cry of the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish- acquires a new meaning in this context.
In the just financed film about the Zionist lobby group J Street, there’s an interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about the inability to sustain the Israeli occupation of Palestine for another 45 years. It’s been said many times before, and Olmert is a war criminal for his actions in Gaza and Lebanon, but his words are completely ignored and shunned in the mainstream Zionist community and conservative press. The occupation is welcomed:
Care to imagine what an editorial meeting is like at Rupert Murdoch’s Australian? No, me neither – “look, over there, a Muslim country the West hasn’t bombed, let’s fix that immediately!” – but there’s a weird obsession over supporting the Israeli government. There’s a direct line from the Israeli PR department to the writers at the Murdoch organ and don’t they milk it for all it’s worth? It’s not about intellectual rigour or facts but blind ideology. From comments about how Palestinians and critics should be grateful for Israel to today three articles that all tackle BDS, Palestine, human rights, anti-Semitism, TERRORISM, ice-cream and pandas.
The word “occupation” is typically absent.
First, a “news story”:
Sydney Peace Foundation head Stuart Rees has lashed out at Julia Gillard for signing the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism, calling the gesture “childish, thoughtless but easily populist”.
Professor Rees is on the staff of the University of Sydney’s controversial Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, which last year denied a request for co-operation from the only Israeli academic to create a civics curriculum for both Jewish and Arab school students.
The centre cited its support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which explicitly equates Israel with apartheid-era South Africa.
Last month the Prime Minister became the first Australian parliamentarian to sign the London Declaration. “This declaration reminds us that combating anti-Semitism is an active process, not a passive one,” she said. “It demands vigilance. It means remaining alert to new vehicles by which hatred and social poison can be spread.”
Professor Rees originally made his comments in an email responding to comments made by opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne when he attacked the BDS movement on Friday.
“Activism, boycotts and sometimes sanctions campaigns aren’t always anti-Semitic, but when you target individual businesses because they are Jewish, it is clearly anti-Semitic,” Mr Pyne said in a statement on the declaration, pointing to BDS activity at universities in NSW.
“It is sad that 70 years after the second world war and the discovery of the Holocaust we are still having to defend the right of Jewish people to live in their Jewish homeland in Israel free from this kind of anti-Semitic campaign.”
Professor Rees dismissed his remarks as “the usual childish, thoughtless but easily populist response” in the email, which was obtained by The Australian. “Justice for the Palestinians and indeed security for Israelis deserves more than predicable ‘happy to get on any easy bandwagon’ approach of this politician.”
Asked if his criticisms also applied to Ms Gillard, Professor Rees responded “of course”. “The resort to charges of anti-Semitism regarding the world-wide criticisms of the internationally illegal policies of the government of Israel is an age-old technique to stifle any criticism of blatant human rights abuses,” he said.
Mr Pyne said: “It is disappointing that Professor Rees is the director of the Sydney Peace Foundation and yet also a supporter of the BDS movement that seeks to delegitimise Israel, targets Jewish businesses and prohibits a healthy cultural exchange between universities and in so doing damages the prospects for peace.”
Professor Rees declined to comment yesterday, saying he had just returned from overseas.
And an op-ed by Bruce Loudon, a man who praises Israel for its glorious democracy but just happens to ignore the minor detail of millions of Palestinians under a brutal, Israeli occupation:
There is a fundamental flaw in the argument that forms the centrepiece of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
Israel, supporters of the campaign maintain, is an “apartheid” state where the evils being perpetrated against Palestinians are equivalent to those committed in South Africa in the darkest days of racist oppression. They demand the same international response (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) that, they argue, succeeded in undoing the white regime.
They see successfully labelling Israel in the eyes of the world an “apartheid” state as the key to forcing it to change course.
It’s an argument that has attracted support around the world, not just among those het up by what they ludicrously perceive to be the threat posed by Max Brenner chocolate shops in Australia. Even that most eminent and widely esteemed of scientists, Stephen Hawking, has bowed to Palestinian pressure and decided to boycott a scientific conference in Israel that he was previously happy to visit.
But it is an argument many with first-hand knowledge of South Africa under apartheid rule and Israel today would regard as a cockeyed distortion of historical reality that should be resisted, for the very basis of it is plain wrong: conveniently ignored is the fact that from its inception in 1949 until Nelson Mandela won power for the African National Congress in the 1994 “freedom election”, the policy of apartheid in South Africa involved the oppression of a vast black majority, purely on the basis of race, by a tiny white minority.
Crucially, it involved the creation of a state in which there was no democracy as we know it – one in which political and most other rights were the exclusive preserve of the privileged white minority. The black majority was disenfranchised and subjected to the most outrageous forms of discrimination in every aspect of their lives. They had no representation in the national parliament.
Black lives were regulated simply because people were black. Segregation was ruthlessly enforced. Blacks were allowed to live only in specified, mostly rundown areas. They had to go to separate, backdoor entrances at post offices. They could not go to white hospitals. Marriage and sex across the colour line was barred.
A lunatic system of race classification deemed what people could or could not do. Blacks couldn’t place funeral notices in the same columns as whites in newspapers. Schools were segregated, beaches were for whites only, and blacks were barred from playing sport with whites.
Israel is vastly different; it bears little relation to the madness of apartheid in South Africa. It is, after all, a country in which there is, yes, an overwhelming Jewish majority, but in which Arabs make up 20 per cent of the population. Crucially, where South Africa, under apartheid, was a racial dictatorship, Israel is a vibrant democracy, a country whose declaration of independence at the time of its foundation specifically promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”.
While the black majority in South Africa was for decades disenfranchised, in Israel, every citizen, of whatever faith or ethnic background, has an inalienable right to vote and to speak out, even against Israel’s existence.
There have been Arab members of the Knesset in every parliament since the country’s formation, and while in South Africa discriminatory laws were administered by a race-based white judiciary, in Israel, an Arab judge was part of a Supreme Court bench that convicted a former Israeli president on misconduct charges.
Arab Israelis have served as government ministers, ambassadors for the country in key diplomatic postings abroad, and in top public service and police posts.
Yet Israel is flogged by the BDS campaigners as an “apartheid” state that deserves to be punished and ostracised by the international community in the way South Africa was. Nothing is heard, of course, about the “apartheid” being enforced by Hamas in Gaza, where strict Islamic law is being imposed, with women barred even from running in a local marathon, while schoolchildren are being segregated and forced to wear Islamic dress. There is also silence on the rank discrimination that is enforced in so much of the Arab world. That South Africa, because of its grotesque system of apartheid, was fair game for the sort of campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions that contributed substantially to the ultimate demise of white rule is hard to argue against.
But comparisons between South Africa then, and Israel now, are neither fair nor sustainable. And they certainly do not accord with reality.
The two situations are vastly different, and it is a pity people such as Hawking allow themselves to be persuaded otherwise. Israel is far from perfect. It has many shortcomings. But it is not an “apartheid” state in the sense South Africa was.
It is a vibrant democracy – significantly, the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. And it deserves better than the gross distortion of reality being espoused by BDS campaigners.
And finally an editorial where readers are told to stop picking on Israel and focus on the real menace, Iran (a nation that this peace-loving newspaper has said in the past could deserve to be bombed):
The Sydney Peace Foundation’s stated purpose is “to promote universal human rights and peace with justice” as the building blocks of any civil society. Foundation chairman Stuart Rees, however, has cast a cloud over the organisation’s bona fides by dismissing the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism as “childish, thoughtless but easily populist”. His condemnation of Julia Gillard and opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne for “cowardice” in signing it almost beggars belief.
The Prime Minister and Mr Pyne are two of more than 125 politicians from 40 countries who have signed the declaration, which is a well-modulated affirmation of “democratic and human values” advocating societies built on respect, combating anti-Semitism and discrimination. As Mr Pyne said last week, it is sad that, 70 years after the Holocaust, it remains necessary to defend the right of Jewish people to live in Israel – the Middle East’s only mature democracy – free of anti-Semitic activities such as the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions campaign.
Professor Rees’s stance, in line with many on the Left, contains a curious anomaly. In recent years, while the Left has become more critical of Israel, its Palestinian opponents have become more jihadist. Israel’s critics also pay little heed to the encroaching influence of Iran, one of the world’s most oppressive and menacing regimes. Late last year, after supporting the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood at the UN, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated his nation’s attitude to Israel when he said any deal that accepted the Jewish state’s existence would leave a “cancerous tumour” forever threatening Middle East security. Such hostile influence further diminishes the prospect of a workable two-state solution. Unfortunately, that prospect has receded since the death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004, as the influence of Fatah, the Palestinian faction prepared to negotiate a two-state solution, has been usurped.
Through Sudan and Egypt, Iran has been shipping major new weapons supplies to the Hamas terrorists in Gaza, who have governed there since winning a majority of parliamentary seats in 2006. The rockets and missiles are being stockpiled in anticipation of military conflict with Israel, to be sparked by action over Iran’s nuclear ambitions or the civil war in Iran’s ally, Syria.
Iran also has cemented its influence in the Middle East by arming its other surrogate, Hezbollah, with Iranian-supplied rockets in Lebanon. The evidence is incontrovertible that the Assad regime in Damascus, in close collusion with Iran, is seeking to transfer stockpiles of Fateh-110 missiles, with the capacity to carry a half-tonne warhead more than 300km, to Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. Such a prospect represents a serious threat to Israel.
Against such a background, the focus of Professor Rees’s “peace” foundation is what he calls “the internationally illegal policies of the government of Israel”. While claiming that Ms Gillard and Mr Pyne “have a lot of serious reflecting and reading to do” and that they should accompany him to Gaza, the professor fails to address the religious fanaticism of Israel’s main opponents. For the head of an organisation ostensibly committed to peace, such bias suggests underlying values that are strangely skewed.
Powerful radio documentary by Nancy Updike from This American Life that highlights the daily violations by the IDF in the West Bank against the Palestinians. This is what the grim reality of occupation looks and feels like:
Sober analysis by Nick Turse in TomDispatch that challenges the bellicose war-mongering all too prevalent in the mainstream media:
In those first minutes, they’ll be stunned. Eyes fixed in a thousand-yard stare, nerve endings numbed. They’ll just stand there. Soon, you’ll notice that they are holding their arms out at a 45-degree angle. Your eyes will be drawn to their hands and you’ll think you mind is playing tricks. But it won’t be. Their fingers will start to resemble stalactites, seeming to melt toward the ground. And it won’t be long until the screaming begins. Shrieking. Moaning. Tens of thousands of victims at once. They’ll be standing amid a sea of shattered concrete and glass, a wasteland punctuated by the shells of buildings, orphaned walls, stairways leading nowhere.
This could be Tehran, or what’s left of it, just after an Israeli nuclear strike.
Iranian cities — owing to geography, climate, building construction, and population densities — are particularly vulnerable to nuclear attack, according to a new study, “Nuclear War Between Israel and Iran: Lethality Beyond the Pale,” published in the journal Conflict & Health by researchers from the University of Georgia and Harvard University. It is the first publicly released scientific assessment of what a nuclear attack in the Middle East might actually mean for people in the region.
Its scenarios are staggering. An Israeli attack on the Iranian capital of Tehran using five 500-kiloton weapons would, the study estimates, kill seven million people — 86% of the population — and leave close to 800,000 wounded. A strike with five 250-kiloton weapons would kill an estimated 5.6 million and injure 1.6 million, according to predictions made using an advanced software package designed to calculate mass casualties from a nuclear detonation.
Estimates of the civilian toll in other Iranian cities are even more horrendous. A nuclear assault on the city of Arak, the site of a heavy water plant central to Iran’s nuclear program, would potentially kill 93% of its 424,000 residents. Three 100-kiloton nuclear weapons hitting the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas would slaughter an estimated 94% of its 468,000 citizens, leaving just 1% of the population uninjured. A multi-weapon strike on Kermanshah, a Kurdish city with a population of 752,000, would result in an almost unfathomable 99.9% casualty rate.
Cham Dallas, the director of the Institute for Health Management and Mass Destruction Defense at the University of Georgia and lead author of the study, says that the projections are the most catastrophic he’s seen in more than 30 years analyzing weapons of mass destruction and their potential effects. “The fatality rates are the highest of any nuke simulation I’ve ever done,” he told me by phone from the nuclear disaster zone in Fukushima, Japan, where he was doing research. “It’s the perfect storm for high fatality rates.”
Israel has never confirmed or denied possessing nuclear weapons, but is widelyknown to have up to several hundred nuclear warheads in its arsenal. Iran has no nuclear weapons and its leaders claim that its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian purposes only. Published reports suggest that American intelligence agencies and Israel’s intelligence service are in agreement: Iran suspended its nuclear weapons development program in 2003.
Dallas and his colleagues nonetheless ran simulations for potential Iranian nuclear strikes on the Israeli cities of Beer Sheva, Haifa, and Tel Aviv using much smaller 15-kiloton weapons, similar in strength to those dropped by the United States on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Their analyses suggest that, in Beer Shiva, half of the population of 209,000 would be killed and one-sixth injured. Haifa would see similar casualty ratios, including 40,000 trauma victims. A strike on Tel Aviv with two 15-kiloton weapons would potentially slaughter 17% of the population — nearly 230,000 people. Close to 150,000 residents would likely be injured.
These forecasts, like those for Iranian cities, are difficult even for experts to assess. “Obviously, accurate predictions of casualty and fatality estimates are next to impossible to obtain,” says Dr. Glen Reeves, a longtime consultant on the medical effects of radiation for the Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, who was not involved in the research. “I think their estimates are probably high but not impossibly so.”
According to Paul Carroll of the Ploughshares Fund, a San Francisco-based foundation that advocates for nuclear disarmament, “the results would be catastrophic” if major Iranian cities were attacked with modern nuclear weapons. “I don’t see 75% [fatality rates as] being out of the question,” says Carroll, after factoring in the longer-term effects of radiation sickness, burns, and a devastated medical infrastructure.
According to Dallas and his colleagues, the marked disparity between estimated fatalities in Israel and Iran can be explained by a number of factors. As a start, Israel is presumed to have extremely powerful nuclear weapons and sophisticated delivery capabilities including long-range Jericho missiles, land-based cruise missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and advanced aircraft with precision targeting technology.
While Israel continues daily to brutalise Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and Stephen Hawking’s decision to back BDS causes waves around the world, it’s comical to read Rupert Murdoch’s Australian desperately hoping that the Zionist state would just get some love. After praising Israel for singing lullabies to Palestinians recently, today’s editorial merely deepens the level of delusion. Long may it continue:
An outbreak of common sense at the University of Sydney is welcome. Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence has rejected support from the student council (and one of his own academics) for the anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign.
“I do not consider it appropriate for the university to boycott academic institutions in a country with which Australia has diplomatic relations,” said Dr Spence. As it should, one of our premier seats of learning is standing up for freedom of expression, democracy and liberal intellectual engagement. The BDS push came from Associate Professor Jake Lynch – a paradoxical show of intolerance given he heads the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.
Student activists and Greens MPs who have given succour to the often anti-Semitic BDS campaign should pause to think. Incongruously, these pro-Arab demonstrators focus on one of the few Middle Eastern countries where Arabs have a free vote and hold seats in a democratic parliament. We could take their commitment to human rights more seriously if occasionally they protested against atrocities inflicted upon Arabs by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or blood-letting between Hamas and Hezbollah, or, in the past, the cruelty of Saddam Hussein. But on Arab aggression the protesters see, hear and speak no evil.
Let the public debate thrive. Following Stephen Hawking’s decision to support the academic boycott of Israel, in a highly principled stand, the issue has caused globally gnashing of teeth and reflection. In short, most Zionists just can’t understand why anybody would pick on poor, little, occupying Israel. Some relevant insights below.
The celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking became embroiled in a deepening furore today over his decision to boycott a prestigious conference in Israel in protest over the state’s occupation of Palestine.
Hawking, a world-renowned scientist and bestselling author who has had motor neurone disease for 50 years, cancelled his appearance at the high-profile Presidential Conference, which is personally sponsored by Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, after a barrage of appeals from Palestinian academics.
The move, denounced by prominent Israelis and welcomed by pro-Palestinian campaigners, entangled Cambridge University – Hawking’s academic base since 1975 – which initially claimed the scientist’s withdrawal was on medical grounds, before conceding a political motivation.
The university’s volte-face came after the Guardian presented it with the text of a letter sent from Hawking to the organisers of the high-profile conference in Jerusalem, clearly stating that he was withdrawing from the conference in order to respect the call for a boycott by Palestinian academics.
The full text of the letter, dated 3 May, said: “I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank. However, I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”
Hawking’s decision to throw his weight behind the academic boycott of Israel met with an angry response from the organisers of the Presidential Conference, an annual event hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres.
“The academic boycott against Israel is in our view outrageous and improper, certainly for someone for whom the spirit of liberty lies at the basis of his human and academic mission,” said conference chairman Israel Maimon. “Israel is a democracy in which all individuals are free to express their opinions, whatever they may be. The imposition of a boycott is incompatible with open, democratic dialogue.”
Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador to London, said: “It is a great shame that Professor Hawking has withdrawn from the president’s conference … Rather than caving into pressure from political extremists, active participation in such events is a far more constructive way to promote progress and peace.”
The Wolf Foundation, which awarded Hawking the Wolf prize in physics in 1988, said it was “sad to learn that someone of Professor Hawking’s standing chose to capitulate to irrelevant pressures and will refrain from visiting Israel”.
But Palestinians welcomed Hawking’s decision. “Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking’s support for an academic boycott of Israel,” said Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”
Palestinian academics sent a barrage of letters to Hawking in recent weeks in an attempt to persuade him to join the boycott movement.
Samia al-Botmeh, of Birzeit University in the West Bank, said: “We tried to communicate two points to him. First, that Israel is a colonial entity that involves violations of the rights of the Palestinians, including academic freedom, and then asking him to stand in solidarity with Palestinian academic colleagues who have called for solidarity from international academics in the form of boycotting Israeli academia and academic institutions.”
Hawking’s decision to withdraw from the conference was “fantastic”, said Botmeh. “I think it’s wonderful that he has acted on moral grounds. That’s very ethical and very important for us as Palestinians to know and understand that there are principled colleagues in the world who are willing to take a stand in solidarity with an occupied people.”
Comments on social media in Israel were overwhelmingly opposed to Hawking’s move, with a small number engaging in personal abuse over his physical condition. A minority of commentators supported his stance on Israel’s 46-year occupation of thePalestinian territories.
In addition to the letter sent by Hawking to the conference organisers, a statement in his name was sent to the British Committee for the Universities in Palestine, confirming his withdrawal from the conference for political reasons. The wording was approved by Hawking’s personal assistant after consultation with Tim Holt, the acting director of communications at Cambridge University.
On Wednesday morning, following the Guardian’s revelation that Hawking was boycotting the Presidential Conference, Holt issued a statement saying: “Professor Hawking will not be attending the conference in Israel in June for health reasons – his doctors have advised against him flying.”
However, a later statement said: “We have now received confirmation from Professor Hawking’s office that a letter was sent on Friday to the Israeli president’s office regarding his decision not to attend the Presidential Conference, based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott.”
In a telephone conversation with the Guardian, Holt offered “my apologies for the confusion”.
This year’s conference is expected to be attended by 5,000 people from around the world, including business leaders, academics, artists and former heads of state. Former US president Bill Clinton, former UK prime minister Tony Blair, former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev, Prince Albert of Monaco and Barbra Streisand have accepted invitations, according to organisers.
A highly unscientific Guardian online poll finds huge support for Hawking’s stand.
In Haaretz, note the argument put forward by an academic, typical of many Zionists. Rather than addressing the reasons Israel is increasingly isolated, let’s focus on stronger ties to the outside world. Fail:
The media reports Wednesday that Professor Stephen Hawking would not be attending the President’s Conference in Israel next month prompted many to accuse the world-renowned scientist of anti-Semitism.
Hawking, however, has already visited Israel four times, including the last time, in 2006, at the invitation of the British Embassy. During that trip, he visited universities in Israel and the Palestinian Authority and said he hoped to meet Israeli and Palestinian scientists.
According to a report in the Guardian, ever since Hawking’s participation in the conference was made known some four weeks ago, he has been bombarded with countless emails and letters from Britain and other places in the world, calling on him to revoke his decision.
In view of Hawking’s previous visits to Israel, however, it would be difficult to brand him anti-Semitic. Perhaps he just wanted to avoid the headache involved in any visit to Israel by a well-known scientist or performer.
Among those fighting to thwart the repeated attempts, especially in Britain, to boycott universities in Israel is David Newman, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Newman says that the majority of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement was once limited to mere proclamations by various organizations, but that this has been changing in recent years. Now, he says, boycott efforts are carried out primarily by determined activists who bombard public figures planning to come to Israel with an onslaught emails and faxes. This is probably what happened to Hawking. If so, it means Israel may not be a pariah yet, but it is certainly no longer a place everyone travels to gladly.
According to Newman, one of the founders of Ben-Gurion University’s politics and government department, which has been accused by local McCarthyists of having dangerous leftist tendencies, the answer to these attempts to impose an academic boycott on Israel is to strengthen the cooperation between Israeli and international scientists.
Acts such as upgrading the status of the Ariel University Center, and threats like the one by the Higher Education Council to shut down Ben-Gurion’s politics and government department these hardly contribute to furthering said cooperation.
In 972 magazine, always interesting Israeli writer Noam Sheizaf argues that Israelis can’t be surprised by the growing move towards boycotts and should stop playing the victim:
The British Guardian on Wednesday reported that Prof. Stephen Hawking hascancelled his appearance at the fifth Presidential Conference due to take place this June, in protest of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. The report was later confirmed by Cambridge University. A spokeperson for the Jerusalem-based conference called Hawking’s decision “outrageous and improper.”
One of Haaretz’s leading lefty columnists, Carlo Strenger, wrote an open letter to Hawking echoing these feelings. After expressing pride in his own opposition to the occupation, Strenger accuses Hawking of hypocrisy and applying a double standard; he claims that Israel’s human rights violations are “negligible” compared to those of other countries in the world, and notes that the Israeli academia is for the most part liberal and therefore can’t be blamed for the occupation.
I would like to respond to some of the points he makes, since they represent a larger problem with the Israeli left.
While Hawking responded to the call for academic boycott, it should be noted that the Presidential Conference is not an academic event: it’s an annual celebration of the Israeli business, political and military elites, whose purpose is unclear at best, and which has little importance in Israeli life (it didn’t exist until five years ago). The pro-occupation Right has a heavy presence at the conference – or at least it felt that way last year, when I attended. I will get back to the notion of “the liberal academia” and the Presidential Conference later.
Personally, I think we should put the “double standards” line of defense to rest, since it’s simply an excuse against any form of action. The genocide in Cambodia was taking place at the same time as the boycott effort against South Africa. According to Prof. Strenger’s logic, anti-Apartheid activists were guilty of double standards; they should have concentrated their efforts on many other, and “much worse” regimes.
The notion according to which the horrors in Syria or Darfur make ending the occupation a less worthy cause represents the worst kind of moral relativism, especially when it’s being voiced by members of the occupying society.
I’m also not sure what makes Israeli human rights violations “negligible” compared to those of other countries. I certainly do not think that killing hundreds of civilians in one month during Cast Lead was “negligible,” but the occupation goes way beyond the number of corpses it leaves behind – it has a lot to do with the pressure on the daily lives of all Palestinians, and with the fact that it’s gone on for so long, affecting people through their entire lives (I wrote on the need to see beyond death statistics here). Plus, there is something about the fact that it’s an Israeli who is determining that those human rights violations are “negligible,” which makes me uneasy – just as we don’t want to hear the Chinese using the same term when discussing Tibet.
I will not go into all of Strenger’s rationalizations for the occupation – his claims that the Palestinians answered Israel’s generous peace offers with the second Intifada; that as long as Hamas is in power there is nobody to talk to, that Israel is fighting for its survival against an existential threat, and so on. I don’t think that a fact-based historical analysis supports any of these ideas, but Strenger is entitled to his view. If you think the occupation is justified, or at least inevitable, you obviously see any action against it as illegitimate and uncalled for.
Yet the thing that made Prof. Strenger jump is not “any action” but rather something very specific – the academic boycott. Personally, I think that his text mostly portrays a self-perception of innocence. Israel, according to Strenger, doesn’t deserve to be boycotted and the “liberal academics” – like himself – specifically, don’t deserve it because they “oppose the occupation.”
At this point in time, I think it’s impossible to make such distinctions. The occupation – which will celebrate 46 years next month – is obviously an Israeli project, to which all elements of society contribute and from which almost all benefit. The high-tech industry’s connection to the military has been widely discussed, the profit Israeli companies make exploiting West Bank resources is documented and the captive market for Israeli goods in the West Bank and Gaza is known. Strenger’s own university cooperates with the army in various programs, and thus contributes its own share to the national project.
I would also say that at this point in time, paying lip service to the two state-solution while blaming the Palestinians for avoiding peace cannot be considered opposing to the occupation, unless you want to include Lieberman and Netanyahu in the peace camp. We should be asking ourselves questions about political action as opposed to discussing our views: where do we contribute to the occupation and what form of actions do we consider legitimate in the fight against it?Prof. Stephen Hawking responded to a Palestinian call for solidarity. This is also something to remember – that the oppressed have opinions too, and that empowering them is a worthy cause. In Strenger’s world, the occupation is a topic of internal political discussion among the Jewish-Israeli public. Some people support it, some people – more – are against it; the Palestinians should simply wait for the tide to change since “it is very difficult for Israeli politicians to convince Israelis to take risks for peace.” And what happens if Israelis don’t chose to end the occupation? (Which is exactly what they are doing, over and over again.) I wonder what form of Palestinian opposition to the occupation Prof. Strenger considers legitimate. My guess: none (code phrase: “they should negotiate for peace”).______________The issues of boycott and anti-normalization are perhaps the toughest for Israeli leftists right now. Like everyone who deals with Palestinians – if only occasionally – I have personally felt the effects of various campaigns against the occupation. I could also say that I have felt alienated by the language and tone of many pro-Palestinian activists. Often I feel that they reject my Israeli identity as a whole, sometimes even my existence. Many even refrain from using the name “Israel”, leaving very little room for joint action or simply for meaningful interaction.
But all this is beside the point right now. While I myself have never advocated a full boycott, I think that the least Israeli leftists can do is to not stand in the way of non-violent Palestinian efforts to end the occupation. It’s not only the moral thing to do, but also a smarter strategy because as long as Israelis don’t feel that the status quo is taking some toll on their lives, they will continue to avoid the unpleasant political choices which are necessary for terminating the occupation. Since the Israeli left is often unable to admit its own share in the occupation – and therefore acknowledge the legitimacy of Palestinian resistance – again and again it acts against its own stated goals.
2012 was the most peaceful year the West Bank has known in a long time (for Israelis, that is), and yet at its very end, Israelis chose a coalition which all but ignores the occupation. The problem is not just the politicians; Israelis are simply absorbed by other issues. I hope that Stephen Hawking’s absence will serve as a reminder for the generals, politicians and diplomats who will attend the Presidential Conference next month of the things happening just a few miles to their east – as “negligible” as they may seem to some.
Finally, Ben White writes in Al-Jazeera that there are countless reasons why Israel must face international sanction:
The Israeli government and various lobby groups use events such as the “Presidential Conference” to whitewash Israel’s crimes past and present, a tactic sometimes referred to as “rebranding”. As a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official put it after the 2009 Gaza massacre, it is the kind of approach that means sending “well-known novelists and writers overseas, theatre companies, [and] exhibits” in order to “show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war”. “Brand Israel” is all about creating a positive image for a country that is the target of human rights campaigners the world over – as if technological innovations or high-profile conferences can hide the reality of occupation and ethnic cleansing.
Palestinians suffering under Israeli apartheid are calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a strategy in the realisation of their basic rights, a fact that many Zionists choose to ignore when attacking boycott campaigns. The Palestinian civil society call for BDS was officially launched on July 9 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the illegality of Israel’s Separation Wall. Signatories to the BDS call come from representatives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Palestinian refugees. Since then, growing numbers of people in the likes of academia, the arts world, trade unions and faith communities have answered the BDS call with initiatives that put the focus firmly on Israel’s routine violations of international law and ending complicity in these crimes. Professor Hawking is to be commended for seeking the advice of Palestinian academics, and heeding their request for international solidarity in a decades-long struggle for freedom and justice.
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 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.
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.”
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.”
The office of President Peres, which has not yet announced Hawking’s withdrawal, did not respond to requests for comment. Hawking’s name has been removed from the speakers listed on the official website.
Intriguing and eerie story (via the New York Times) that highlights the timeless fascination some people have with a utopia lifestyle. From the mad to the bad and the racist to the religious, the quest for some kind of unattainable perfection persists:
The year was 1887 when two of the best-known German anti-Semites of the time put down stakes here in Paraguay’s remote jungle with 14 German families screened for their racial purity.
The team of Bernhard Förster and his wife, Elisabeth, the sister of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, had an ambitious plan: nothing less than the establishment of a colony from which an advance contingent of Aryans could forge a claim to the entire South American continent.
But the continent had other plans for this new Fatherland.
“Some were able to survive,” said Lidia Fischer, 38, a blonde-haired descendant of a family that was among Nueva Germania’s first settlers. Those pioneers struggled with disease, failed crops, infighting and the megalomania of the Försters, who lorded over the colony from an elegant mansion called the Försterhof.
“Some returned to Germany,” said Ms. Fischer in an interview on her farm, where she lives with her husband and their five children. “Some committed suicide.”
Within two years the dream had been shattered, and today the Försterhof, where a sign that read “Over all obstacles, stand your ground” once hung on the wall, lies in ruins. The forest grows over its charred remains. Not long after founding the outpost and envisioning its mission as the “purification and rebirth of the human race,” Mr. Förster grew despondent over Nueva Germania’s progress. He swallowed a mixture of morphine and strychnine, killing himself in 1889.
Mr. Förster’s wife left Paraguay in 1893 for Germany, where she spent her later years staining her brother’s reputation. While Nietzsche derided anti-Semitism and expressed disdain in correspondence with his sister for the anti-Semitic character of Nueva Germania, she went on to reinvent his legacy after his death in 1900, transforming the philosopher into a kind of prophet for the Nazi propaganda machine.
Somehow, the remote settlement the Försters left behind survived, drawing meager income from the cultivation of the yerba mate tree, the leaves of which are used to make tereré, the infused drink consumed across Paraguay. In what would be a shock to its founders, today’s Nueva Germania has skewed sharply from its mission of elevating the white race with Aryan pioneers.
While there are still a few blond-haired children running around, after generations of intermarriage, many of the town’s 4,300 residents have German surnames but are indiscernible from other Paraguayans. Nueva Germania’s dominant language is Guaraní, the indigenous language widely spoken in Paraguay; even those families who still hew to old ways, speaking German at home, mix it with high-pitched, nasal Guaraní and some Spanish.
Describing a towering tree in the yard of her farm with few branches around its trunk, making it daunting to climb, Ms. Fischer, the descendant of Nueva Germania’s pioneers, called it simply “ka’i kyhyjeha,” an indigenous term roughly translating as “monkey’s fear.” “Guaraní and German are so different from each other,” she said, “but they mix well for us.”
The poverty that persists in Nueva Germania also makes it stand in contrast to some other agricultural colonies in Paraguay founded by European immigrants, like the prosperous Mennonite towns where new pickup trucks barrel down country roads. Some descendants of the first German colonists here scrape by as subsistence farmers, moving crops like cassava, an important staple, on horse-drawn carts.
In hindsight, it might seem absurd for ideologues from across the seas to have hinged their dreams on impoverished Paraguay. But this landlocked nation, with territory about the size of California, has a long history of luring utopian settlements.
In 1893, a teetotaling faction of Australia’s labor movement created Nueva Australia, which survives to this day. Finnish vegetarians started Colonia Villa Alborada in the 1920s. More recently, Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church who died in 2012, bought 1.5 million acres of Paraguayan land and sent an advance group of followers to set up a “Victorious Holy Place.”
Few projects had the ambitions, however, of Nueva Germania. From the start, the Försters envisioned it as an idyllic “Naumburg on the Aguarya-umí” river, where crops would grow in abundance and Lutherans could worship in isolation away from Jewish influence, as the writer Ben Macintyre recounts in “Forgotten Fatherland,” a 1992 book on the colony and its founders.
Savvy piece by Larry Derfner in +972 magazine. The lack of mainstream criticism over Israeli actions against Syria reveals the agenda; install a pliant thugocracy in Damascus. Good luck with that:
People in this country [Israel] have been worried that the fighting in Syria is going to “spill over the border,” and now Israel, unprovoked, unattacked, has gone and bombed Syria twice in the last 72 hours. Is anyone in this vibrant democracy protesting? I haven’t heard it.
That’s because the missiles from Syria and/or Hezbollah haven’t started falling here. So far so good, people figure. As long as we get away with it, hooray. If, however, our neighbors to the north start retaliating with some of their tens of thousands of rockets and missiles on the Israeli home front or other targets, maybe then people here will wonder why we decided now of all times to punch Syria and Hezbollah in the nose.
What was the Air Force trying to do – stop Assad’s chemical weapons from falling into the hands of global jihadists, the same ones who supposedly can’t be deterred because they have no address? No. Both times, the Air Force reportedly hit not chemical weapons but caches of long-range, accurate, conventional missiles that came from Iran and were meant not for “undeterrable” global jihadists without an address, but for Hezbollah, which has an address and is being deterred very nicely by Israel – so far.
Why did Israel take out these missiles? The Israeli official quoted after Friday morning’s attack said it was to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining “game-changing” weapons. Which game was in danger of being changed? The game of Israeli military superiority, of the Israeli “qualitative edge.” The rules of this game are that Israel continually flies spy planes over Lebanon, bombs Syria now, and may bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities later, secure in its belief that the targets can’t do much in return – like bring down Israeli spy planes over Lebanon with anti-aircraft missiles (which were hit in January), or terrorize the home front with long-range, accurate missiles (which were hit Friday and yesterday).
In other words, Israel’s air strikes in Syria were meant to maintain its ability to carry out continued acts of aggression against its enemies without fear of challenge. This is the game, and this is what Israel doesn’t want anyone to change.
The strange thing, though, is that Hezbollah and Syria, as noted, already have tens of thousands of rockets and missiles, some of which can hit anywhere in Israel. How much of a difference would these Fateh-110 missiles that Israel destroyed in the last couple of days have made in Hezbollah’s hands? It doesn’t seem there was anything so urgent about bombing them; it seems Israel did it because it believes there was no real risk involved, as former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told Army Radio, as quoted in Haaretz.
Yadlin said that he doesn’t expect Syria to retaliate. “A confrontation with Israel would bring more danger, not responding would let Assad maintain the upper hand in the fight against the rebels.”
So far, there are no reports of people being killed in the Israeli attacks, although there are reports of injuries from last night’s strike on a military research center. But how long can Israel’s luck hold out? How many more times can it attack Syria without Syria or Hezbollah hitting back?
(UPDATE: The New York Times on Monday quotes a doctor at Syria’s military Tishreen hospital saying at least 100 soldiers were killed and dozens of people were injured. It also quotes a senior military official saying dozens of elite troops were killed.)
Could that be what Israel wants? Could Israel also be trying to draw Iran into the fray and give it an excuse to hit Tehran? At any rate, is the possibility of a regional war something that doesn’t scare Israel, so it sees no risk in taking out a few batches of advanced weapons before Hezbollah gets them?
One thing is sure – Israel is provoking a war. (Imagine what this country would do if some enemy attacked its weapons sites.) Meanwhile, the Obama administration is backing Netanyahu and the generals 100 percent. As for this country, there isn’t a word of protest from anyone, certainly no one who matters. Israel may or may not be at war in the very near future, but if it isn’t, it won’t be for lack of trying.