I’ve been virtually incommunicado for a few days and didn’t manage to finish follow-up piece in time to post before I left.
I read an article on Harry’s Place that explored, above and below the line, Hawking’s boycott and related issues in depth. Sadly the comments will be zapped all too soon. One in particular steered Hawking’s allegiance with the BDS movement in the direction of the BBC. It was from commenter ‘mind the crap’, whose blogging moniker forewarns the reader about the content of his own comments, which, unintentional or not, is quite considerate. He said:
“Maybe Hawking just reads the news every day and he is disgusted by the petty harassment and humiliation of the Palestinians in the occupied territories.”
‘The news every day’ almost certainly involves the BBC somehow, if not directly then by one or two degrees of separation.
I thought it was worth adding to this topic after hearing the item on the Today programme, which has now been forensically dissected by Hadar on BBCWatch.
This morning’s Today programme featured a debate between the well-known Pro Palestinian agitator Dr. Ghada Karmi, “a research fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University,” in support of BDS, and Dr Toby Greene, research director of BICOM in Jerusalem who argued against.
Producers of Today deliberately recruit contributors who hold extreme positions, hoping sparks will fly on air. I don’t know if that earns brownie points in BBC-land, but it does little to further anything much else, except to startle listeners out of their early morning stupor.
Dr. Karmi’s a track record of delivering unsubstantiated Israel-bashing statements with manic, glittering-eyed aplomb means she’s one of those instant ignition triggers, whom idle Today producers have on speed dial. Maybe her association with “a university”, albeit the Arab and Islamic Studies department of Saudi-funded Exeter university, bestows a veneer of credibility to mendacious fabrications and distortions that would be dismissed as outrageous tripe if expectorated from a common or garden layperson. The trouble is, when Dr. Karmi appears on the BBC she comes in plain packaging when she should be attached to a government health warning, or at least a descriptive blogging name.
I caught one of a Al Jazeera’s Hawking related discussions, which featured two BDS advocates, one of whom was Ben White wearing school-teacherish spectacles to give him a semblance of authority, pitted against a solitary pro Israel voice. Not dissimilar to the BBC on balance, except that the pro Israel speaker was given adequate time to make his point.
On the Arab/Israeli topic it’s nearly always the same. Meaningless accusations are batted back and forth in a dispiriting ritual in which long-since flogged-to-death phrases are chanted tediously. Both sides ceased bothering to contemplate the meaning of them years ago, but their purpose is to put the opponent on the defensive. BDSers and pro Palestinian activists are leading experts in the field. For example Jenny Tonge and her ilk will attribute all acts of violence by Islamists to: “what Israel is doing to the Palestinians” knowing that everyone will immediately recall half understood tales about checkpoints, ethnic cleansing and indiscriminate baby killings, and will nod sagely and empathise with the Palestinians some more and despise Israel with greater intensity. The peace process will remain as stagnant as ever, which is neither here nor there to fiery-eyed demonisers of Israel.
Because of its contribution to the current Israel-bashing climate, the BBC must bear some responsibility for Hawing’s unfortunate decision. Although I haven’t been watching television recently, I suspect that the BBC has not been as vocal as it usually is, given a chance to express moral outrage against Israel on any new pretext.
A brief online search brought up several articles on the topic, some in surprising places, including the Guardian.
Would you Adam’n’Eve it, the majority of opinion seems to be that Hawing has made a bad decision. The gist of the arguments I’ve seen so far is:
1 Hawking’s brilliance in cosmology doesn’t confer similar brilliance upon him in every other sphere.
2 Celebrities’ political meddlings give succor to unworthies. (Electronic Intifada etc)
3 Hawing has visited countries (Iran, China) particularly known for human rights abuses - so hypocrisy.
4 Hawking is dependent on an Israel-developed Intel chip.
Daniel Johnson, editor of Standpoint, wrote in yesterday's Times:
“Stephen Hawing’s decision to join the academic boycott of Israel is worse than a mistake: it is a crime. By humiliating President Peres, who had invited him as an honoured guest, the world’s most renowned scientist has delighted anti-semites everywhere and boosted a campaign that aims to eradicate the Jewish state.”
“Professor Hawking’s endorsement of BDS however, takes delegitimisation onto a different intellectual plane. He says that he cannot set foot in Israel because “the policy of the Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster”. What does he think about Syria, where disaster has already happened, a civil war that has already killed more people than all the Arab Israeli conflicts combined? Curiously enough, the professor has nothing to say about Syria, nor about the rise of Islamism across the Muslim world, which is leaving carnage and oppression in its wake. Israelis, surrounded by regimes and terrorists dedicated to their destruction, are the only people whom he chooses to treat like lepers.”
However, unlike Mr. Johnson, many authors are not pro Israel, but on this topic they don’t even need to bring in the dead-end arguments that BDSers favour, or in fact the arguments for and against boycotts as a whole. They can simply criticise Hawking by focusing on the principles outlined above, which they can see are pretty solid.
Some mentioned John Humphrys positing (to Toby Greene) that Hawking’s decision has at least “raised awareness of the plight of the Palestinians”. Obviously that point could be used to defend any other dubious, awareness-raising activity such as the Boston bombings, and of course it also begs consideration of another obvious question. Has not awareness of the aforementioned plight been sufficiently raised ‘enough already’ by the likes of the BBC, without Hawing exploiting his celebrity status and making a huge fool of himself to boot?