The media's reports Wednesday that Professor Stephen Hawking would not be attending the President's Conference in Israel next month prompted many to accuse the world-renowned scientist of anti-Semitism.
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Hawking, however, has already visited Israel four times, including the last time, in 2006, at the invitation of the British Embassy. During that trip, he visited universities in Israel and the Palestinian Authority and said he hoped to meet Israeli and Palestinian scientists.
According to a report in the Guardian, ever since Hawking's participation in the conference was made known some four weeks ago, he has been bombarded with countless emails and letters from Britain and other places in the world, calling on him to revoke his decision.
In view of Hawking's previous visits to Israel, however, it would be difficult to brand him anti-Semitic. Perhaps he just wanted to avoid the headache involved in any visit to Israel by a well-known scientist or performer.
Among those fighting to thwart the repeated attempts, especially in Britain, to boycott universities in Israel is David Newman, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Newman says that the majority of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement was once limited to mere proclamations by various organizations, but that this has been changing in recent years. Now, he says, boycott efforts are carried out primarily by determined activists who bombard public figures planning to come to Israel with an onslaught of emails and faxes. This is probably what happened to Hawking. If so, it means Israel may not be a pariah yet, but it is certainly no longer a place everyone travels to gladly.
According to Newman, one of the founders of Ben-Gurion University's politics and government department, which has been accused by local McCarthyists of having dangerous leftist tendencies, the answer to these attempts to impose an academic boycott on Israel is to strengthen the cooperation between Israeli and international scientists.
Acts such as upgrading the status of the Ariel University Center, and threats like the one by the Higher Education Council to shut down Ben-Gurion's politics and government department hardly contribute to furthering said cooperation.