by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark
The rush to denounce the renowned British physicist, Stephen Hawking, for withdrawing from the fifth annual Israeli Presidential Conference in order to protest Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, should have run its course in early May, flaring up as these things do, and then simmering down until Israel’s purported defenders stir up the next flap. But a cartoon in the Forward by Eli Valley reignited the frenzy.
Valley was responding to the hypocrisy he observed in right-wing Zionist charges that Hawking was a hypocrite. Their criticisms followed the usual script familiar to readers of Muzzlewatch (accusations of smug self-righteousness, the usual fulminations of Alan Dershowitz).
But the railing took on a particularly cruel cast, given Hawking’s physical condition:
“Hawking’s decision to join the boycott of Israel is quite hypocritical for an individual who prides himself on his whole intellectual accomplishment. His whole computer-based communications system runs on a chip designed by Israel’s Intel team. I suggest if he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Shurat HaDin. (This from a news story in the Guardian.)
Professor Hawking certainly knows that researchers at Tel Aviv University have launched clinical trials on a revolutionary new technology intended to protect the human brain from neurodegenerative disorders such as the one from which the famous scientist suffers and that at Ben Gurion University, they have found an enzyme that so far delays Lou Gehrig’s disease in mice.
Would Professor Hawking boycott a possible Israeli breakthrough in treating the disease?
Or more to the point -
Would Professor Hawking ever survive in any Arab country or under the Palestinian autocracy he shamefully defends?
While in the Arab world disabled people have been called “the invisibles,” because they are segregated and hidden from the public eye, Israel’s work with illness and disabilities would merit a book in itself.
That was apparently too much for Eli Valley, who weighed in on May 14:
No attempt at satire goes unpunished by Israel’s defenders. In an op-ed with the heading “What’s a Pro-Boycott Cartoon of Stephen Hawking Doing in a Jewish Paper? The Forward Should Defend Israel, Not Hypocritical Attackers,” columnist Hillel Halkin writes:
A cartoon that ignores this fact — one implying that Hawking’s disinclination to commit suicide is the main argument against him — is a cartoon that seeks to portray Hawking’s critics as foolish and malicious. And since what Hawking is being criticized for is boycotting Israel, it is a cartoon that portrays opposition to the boycott as foolish and malicious, as well. It is a pro-boycott cartoon.
And in the Forward!
Is it really necessary to make the case in the pages of a Jewish newspaper that no Jewish newspaper, let alone the Forward, should allow the slightest expression of sympathy for the Israel boycott movement to appear in it? Is it necessary to insist on the inherently anti-Semitic nature of this movement? Is it necessary to observe that anti-Semitism should not be condoned, let alone promoted, by the Jewish press?
Apparently, it is.
And so, here we have it again: For the discourse police, any expression of sympathy for BDS is anti-Semitic. Full stop. Well, not quite. In an op-ed “Defending My Stephen Hawking Cartoon,” Vallley, expresses surprise that:
“. . . Halkin is such a vociferous opponent of boycotts. He himself is proposing a boycott of views deemed, by his own criteria, to be inappropriate for Jews to see, read and hear.
Halkin’s jeremiad does not appear in a vacuum. It comes at a time when many of America’s major Jewish institutions debate the limits of free expression about Israel. It is an unfortunate paradox of Zionism that a movement created to safeguard Jewish sovereignty has led to so much fear and anxiety about Jewish thought.
Now Halkin appears eager to apply these rules to yet another pillar of communal vitality: the exchange of ideas in the media. He claims that a Jewish newspaper should only be permitted to talk about certain things. This proposal is a far greater threat to Jewish life than any movement of political protest. It’s time to stop losing our patience with open thought and discussion. It’s time to start losing our patience with those who try to define, invariably through a political lens, what constitutes legitimate Jewish discourse. Enough with attempted boycotts of Jewish views, divestments from Jewish thought and sanctions of Jewish opinion. In the Jewish community and culture that I treasure, there is a word to describe the movement to police and suppress Jewish expression. The word is shanda, and it means disgrace.”
Hooray for the artists.