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Latest Country Blogs: Israel & Palestine
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Defiant Hawking strikes a blow for the Palestinians

The brave decision by Professor Stephen Hawking not to attend a conference in Israel has predictably led to condemnation of the physicist’s action in joining the growing academic boycott of the country.

Hawking was due to attend the Presidential Conference, which is personally sponsored by Israel’s president, Shimon Peres. But pleas from Palestinian activists and academics persuaded the Cambridge-based scientist to pull out.

But for conference chairman Israel Maimon to condemn Hawking’s action as “outrageous and improper” is itself outrageous. Israel openly oppresses millions of Palestinians and while it continues to do so, Maimon’s claim that Israel is a democracy is preposterous.

In defending his decision, Hawking explains:

I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics… unanimous that I should respect the boycott… Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.

He joins a growing list of leading academic and arts figures who refuse to work with the apartheid Zionist state.

The author Iain Banks will not allow his novels to be published there and Alice Walker turned down an Israeli publisher's request for The Color Purple, quoting Desmond Tutu's view that the Israeli version of apartheid’s crimes is even worse than black South Africans suffered.

During the 2011 Gaza bombing, 52 Nobel prize-winners called for a military and technological boycott. Students unions are joining, divesting their funds from firms that profit from the occupation and campaigning for universities to do the same.

The list includes Toronto, Sheffield, Manchester, Glasgow, Oberlin College Ohio, Sussex, University of California Colleges Irvine, Berkley and San Diego, and Brown University. Institutions in Brazil, France, Belgium and Italy are also on board.

Big names facing disinvestment include Caterpillar, Veolia, G4S, Carmel Agrexco, Sodastream and Hewlett Packard.

An attempt to use the law against the boycott suffered a setback in April when an employment tribunal dismissed a case taken against Britain's University and College Union by union member Ronnie Fraser.

Fraser's main purpose was to establish a new legal definition of "institutional anti-Semitism". The tribunal slapped that down very firmly, stating that "a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel… cannot amount to a protected characteristic” under the Equality Act of 2010. You can read more about this and how Fraser was backed by the Zionist state here.

Does all of this balance out the support for the apartheid Zionist state from corporations and governments greedy for trade and influence? Prime minister Netanyahu was in China this week discussing billions of dollars worth of deals. The Israeli economy is going through a mini-boom, exporting stolen natural gas and the smart hardware and software developed to police the occupation.

But actually it is not a question of balance but of direction of travel and historic change.

There is a growing movement in the occupied West Bank to disengage entirely from the fake peace process and from Israel, and pursue instead the model of the First Intifada, with its commitment to self-reliance and self-determination.

The Palestine National Authority has nothing to offer. It is bankrupt, and can't even pay its staff. The Zionist state and the US are imposing collective punishment over the PNA's pursuit of statehood at the UN, withholding millions of dollars in tax revenues and aid.

Corrupted and stymied through its pursuit of the never-actually-on-offer two-state solution, the PNA watches powerless as Israel expands settlements, steal land and brutalise its people.

In Israel, a renewal of the social unrest that broke out in 2010 is imminent. Only a small number of oligarch billionaires are benefiting from economic growth in one of the most unequal societies in the world. The Netanyahu government just proposed a ruthless austerity budget and more protests are planned.

In taking the stand he has, Hawking has struck a blow for ordinary Israelis as well as Palestinians. Divesting themselves of fake diplomacy and false promises, they should work together for the purpose of creating a single, secular state where they can live and work together.

Penny Cole
9 May 2013

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Rada Daniell says:

Great article - thanks! I have shared it.


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