Phi Beta Cons

Stephen Hawking Backs Academic Boycott of Israel

In a Hardwire post I examine the latest high-profile academic to join the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement — in this case, famous author and physicist Stephen Hawking. Hawking pulled out of an academic conference in Israel, where he had been scheduled to speak, after coming under intense pressure from organizers of the anti-Israel BDS campaign.

Hawking declared that he made the decsion after consulting “Palestinian colleagues,” who unanimously advised him to boycott the conference.

Surely there are many nations (including his own) that have political policies Hawking does not support. He isn’t boycotting any of them. Why does Hawking single out Israel as the one place in the world where politics justifies an academic boycott?

Should academic discourse, free inquiry, and the exchange of ideas be subject to political suppression? Should academics avoid talking to scholars who happen to be Israeli? Apparently, Hawking thinks so because that is, in effect, what is happening here.

When one’s disagreement with a nation’s political regime justifies the shunning and boycott of that nation’s scientists and scholars, we are on dangerous ground. Hawking and other politically liberal scholars who participate in the academic boycott of Israel are hypocrites. They are quick to profess devotion to tolerance and academic freedom, but they don’t live up to those ideals – not when it comes to Israel, anyway.

If it is has become acceptable to support an academic boycott of an entire nationality (all Israelis), we aren’t far off from a future in which it will be acceptable to back an academic boycott of an entire ethnicity (all Jews).


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