On Tuesday, famed physicist Stephen Hawking withdrew from a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in solidarity with an academic boycott against the Jewish state. Hawking, 71, had accepted an invitation to the Facing Tomorrow conference in June in Jerusalem, which was scheduled to celebrate Peres’ birthday, and features attendance by a huge variety of nationalities. But Hawking reversed himself by writing a letter to Peres, and expressing via the British Committee for the Universities in Palestine that his withdrawal was based on “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.”
Boycotts against Israel have become common in the increasingly anti-Semitic fever swamp of Europe. The Teachers Union of Ireland is boycotting Israel, and the so-called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is gaining steam in nations ranging from Spain to France to Britain. Hawking has spoken in Israel repeatedly in the past, but does not want to anger his academic allies. In 2006, he said he couldn’t wait to visit “Israel and the Palestinian territories.” In 2009, however, Hawking compared Israel to “South Africa before 1990,” and suggested that Israeli response to Hamas rocket fire on civilian populations was “plain out of proportion.”
Intellectual bona fides, it appears, are no match for a bit of moral relativism and tacit anti-Semitism.
Update: The Legal Insurrection blog reports that boycott advocates may have misled the public about the reasons for Hawking’s cancellation, which the University of Cambridge attributes to health reasons alone.
Update: The University of Cambridge has reportedly acknowledged that it was incorrect and that Hawking has, indeed agreed to boycott the conference in Israel at the behest of Palestinian academics.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).