The fallout continues from Stephen Hawking's decision to boycott Shimon Peres' 90th birthday extravaganza. While I have no pretensions of even approaching British author Howard Jacobson's brilliant takedown of Hawking in the U.K.’s Independent, I share Jacobson's opinion that BDS is merely tarted up anti-Semitism. As such there is no need to be meek and gentle with BDS practitioners like Hawking. And if that position qualifies me for inclusion in Bradley Burston's bad list of right wing hate-mongers - so be it.
- Targeting Stephen Hawking and Dustin Hoffman: Right-wing 'pro-Israel' Advocacy as Hate Speech
- Hypocrisy and Double Standard: An Open Letter to Stephen Hawking
- Hawking and Hypocrisy: Here We Go Again
- Stephen Hawking Is Now the Academic Boycott Movement’s Unlikely Poster Boy
- The Prophetic Lesson of Stephen Hawking's Israel Boycott
Viewing the BDS movement as inherently anti-Semitic does not mean that we should ignore or minimize the threat - quite the contrary. It was Holocaust historian Raoul Hilberg who pointed out that the boycott of German Jewry was the first part of a three-phase program leading to the extermination of the Jews, by accustoming the gentile public to the notion that Jews were beyond the pale. BDS does not seek to combat a particular Israeli policy, but rather wishes to terminate Israel's existence as a sovereign Jewish state, and place its Jewish population on the same footing as other religious minorities in the Arab world – that of an endangered species.
BDS is not a movement that can be appeased by concessions. Even if Israel totally retreated to the 1949 Armistice Lines and devastated of all the Jewish communities beyond them it would not suffice. Consider the following insight from the official PA daily Al Hayat Al Jadida from May 8: "The Netanyahu government has not decided to freeze settlement, but has transferred it to the Negev". Get it? Once Israel surrenders Judea and Samaria, the next demand is freezing Jewish construction in the Negev and Galilee - and the BDSers who insist on the right of return for the Palestinian "refugees" will of course espouse the Palestinian position regarding other areas of Israel without missing a step.
Recognizing the problem should dissuade us from invoking the failed responses of the past. One of the more lamentable responses was the opinion piece by Or Tshuva , who literally threw herself on the mercies of the academic boycotters of Israel. Tshuva begged them for special dispensation, as many in Israeli academia support the Palestinians and have even faced "harassment" for their progressivism. This was essentially a rerun of the pathetic attempt by assimilated German Jews to distinguish themselves from the newly arrived ostjuden of Eastern Europe. Don't blame us for that scruffy lot, pleaded the Germans of the Mosaic persuasion, in vain.
Persuading Hawking by appealing to Israel's numerous scientific achievements and contributions to humanity is equally futile. Two Jews were instrumental in keeping Germany afloat during the First World War: The anti-Zionist Walter Rathenau, who mobilized Germany's industrial effort, and Fritz Haber, who was able to synthesize nitrates, thus negating the effects of the allied blockade that denied Germany access to natural nitrates. Rathenau for his services received an assassin's bullet while the Nobel laureate Haber -although baptized - was forced into exile to Switzerland where he died a broken man. Jew hatred is not influenced by cost benefit analysis or by debts of gratitude.
Nor is logic the way to convince the BDSers who can reconcile even antithetical arguments. In one sentence they can accuse Israel of genocide, and in the next invoke Arab demographic superiority to prove that Israel will eventually succumb. But then anti-Semitism never had any difficulty in lumping figures such as Karl Marx and the Rothschilds to illustrate the danger posed by the International Jew. To accuse Hawking of inconsistency for visiting China and Iran is as useful as invoking Stalin's constitution to KGB interrogators during the 1930s.
So what should we do? The first thing is to avoid turning the other cheek. The critics who pressured the 92nd St Y to cancel Pink Floyd's Roger Waters' appearance there should be commended. Belatedly Waters has discovered the value of dialogue but he should have realized this before he beat the drums for BDS.
We should learn from successful strategies against boycotts. If you can't join them, beat them. Prof. Itamar Rabinovich (Yitzhak Rabin's appointee as Ambassador to Washington) has warned that only Israelis with politically correct views are currently invited to Middle East Studies conferences or are welcome to publish in journals. When Jews were previously excluded from resort hotels or golf clubs, they built their own superior version. There is no reason why a similar strategy cannot work in academia.
We can leapfrog the boycotters. When Jews were excluded from traditional industries they pioneered new ones. Given Israel's prowess in communications and its reservoir of academic talent, we could offer cheap online degree programs including courses that would offer greater balance on Middle Eastern topics. This would pose a vocational threat to the academic apparatchiks who cheer on BDS.
I agree with those on the left that Hawking's snub was a wakeup call - but not in the sense that they intend it. Israeli policies towards the Palestinians do not require revision; but the lackadaisical Israeli response to BDS calumny and tactics must be retooled.
Dr. Amiel Ungar is a political scientist.