May 12, 2013
I hope it’s not too churlish to repost this piece from 2013. Stephen Hawking's contributions to our understanding of the universe entitle him, years from now, to be recalled in the pantheon of Copernicus, Galileo, and Einstein. Deservedly so. And A Brief History of Time continues to impact me as it did when I first read it. But brilliant minds can also be morally flawed, and his blind spot on Israel is a blemish on his public career.
Sad to see that Stephen Hawking has fallen into the black hole of anti-Semitism.
Apparently, Hawking is boycotting an academic conference in Tel Aviv as a vague political statement against the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. How, exactly, his refusal to come to the Jewish state will improve the lot of the Palestinian people is hard to define. But Hawking, who more than any other physicist of the generation has helped refine Einstein's ideas about relativity, apparent cannot view the complexity of the tragic Israeli-Palestinian situation with any sense of relativity or subtlety. It is simple and narrow: It's all Israel's fault.
Today the Boston Globe chimed in in support of Hawking, in a soporific editorial celebrating his boycott as some sort of victory for non-violent freedom of speech. Well, sure Hawking and anyone else have the right to refuse any invitation anywhere. But every action has a reaction: a basic principle of physics.
First, Hawking's decision to make a science colloquium a political event is disgraceful, because as he surely knows, this one of the primary loci where modern anti-Semitism is playing itself out, especially in Europe. Israeli scholars in many scientific fields including Nobel laureates are often shunned and banned from scientific forums because of their nationality.
But more importantly, Hawking is on the wrong side. Everyone knows that the world's greatest physicist is even more remarkable because of his devastating disabilities from ALS. It might be self-serving, but where exactly does he think the cure for ALS is going to come from? Gaza? Tehran?
How about this: A January 2013 article from the MDA/ALS Newsmagazine that reports an exciting stem cell therapy for ALS treatment is being accelerated by an Israeli biotech company. It was first pioneered at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, as reported in this article, "Israeli Clinical Study Offers Hope to ALS Patients."
The high-tech miracle that is unfolding in Israel right now includes some of the world's most cutting-edge medical innovations—the sort of scientific discoveries that improve the lives of billions of people, everywhere in the world. Israel's hospitals are noted for treating everybody Jew and Arab alike with some of the most sophisticated medical programs anywhere. Peruse this list of 64 astounding innovations and see the breathtaking research that is coming out of Israeli labs every day:
· The discovery of a gene responsible for liver disease;
· Incredible strides towards understanding Parkinson’s Disease;
· A "robotic exoskeleton" that is literally transitioning people from wheelchairs to walking, as seen on the TV show Glee!
...to name three revelations at random.
Isn’t it ironic that an intellectual icon like Stephen Hawking would promote a world where these programs are diminished and curtailed, in the name of a superficial and bigoted understanding of a complex political problem? Naïve to say it, I know, but science should be a realm where politics falls by the wayside and the true betterment of all humankind is the prime directive.
Advocates for a two-state SOLUTION to the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma should know better than to stigmatize one side or the other. There are those of good faith out there who genuinely seek to build bridges, promote human rights for all, and to bring real and enduring peace to all the children of the region. These are the people who should be celebrated and promoted and encouraged.
But they’ll have to do their work without the bigoted opinions of the author of A Brief History of Time and certainly without the schmucks on the Globe editorial page.