When Stephen Hawking visited here in 2006 he received the royal treatment; but then he decided to criticize Israel.
 By Gideon Levy  |  May.19, 2013 | 6:30 AM    

This might be the most sensitive of Israeli nerves: Just try to touch it, and your fate is sealed. Anyone proposing to boycott an Israeli product, from Ahava’s skin creams to the Israeli Presidential Conference, is immediately sentenced to scorn, ostracism and a total smear campaign.

This Pavlovian response reached a nadir with the announcement by the esteemed scientist Stephen Hawking of his withdrawal from the birthday celebrations for President Shimon Peres. Instead of asking itself how it got to the point where even a celebrated figure like Hawking, who has never been accused of being anti-Israel, decides to boycott its gatherings, Israel is busy waging a slander campaign. Instead of listening to the synthesized moral voice of the paralyzed scientist, Israel kicks viciously at Hawking, in a manner that obviously only proves the lameness of its arguments.

Hawking is permitted to decide that he wants no part of yet another Israeli propaganda fest, aimed at obscuring the goings-on in its backyard and presided over by that wizard of deceit, our president. It’s Hawking’s right, his duty. After four previous visits he said, it stops here, no more will he grace Israel with his presence, like some bauble.

Until he opened his mouth and dared to boycott, he was treated in a manner reserved on these shores for mega-celebrities. When he visited in December 2006, he received the royal treatment. He was interviewed on Yair Lapid’s talk show; the menus he was served in the presidential suite of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel featured in the local gossip columns; and a public service ad he shot for Access Israel – a nonprofit organization promoting greater access for people with disabilities – won the Golden Cactus Award of the Advertisers Association of Israel for Best Campaign and Best Creative Advertising Idea for 2007.

And then it all came crashing down. Overnight, the supporter became a saboteur, the lionized figure became loathed. Prof. Shlomo Avineri accused him of suffering from “severe moral blindness” and even said his decision “has a whiff of racism,” because he dared to boycott Israel but not the United States and Britain (“Stephen Hawking’s hypocrisy,” Haaretz, May 13 ).

The Wolf Foundation, which 25 years ago awarded Hawking its Wolf Prize in Physics, demanded its due, declaring that Hawking “chose to capitulate to irrelevant pressures.” Maybe the foundation will demand its cash award back, as well. The chairman of the Israeli Presidential Conference, Israel Maimon, described the physicist’s decision as “outrageous and improper.”

Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the director of Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, an NGO that combats terror organizations, suggested that Hawking remove his tablet computer’s Intel Core i7 processor, an Israeli-made component that powers the computer-based system that allows him to communicate with the world. Darshan-Leitner was predictably joined in that inhumane proposal to silence Hawking, literally as well as figuratively, by the Israel Prize laureate in communications, Yaakov Ahimeir.

That’s how we like our international cultural and scientific figures: blind supporters of every Israeli action. And this is how we detest them: when they dare to criticize its policy. The day the world’s authority on black holes discovered the black hole in the heart of Israel, he was sentenced to be smeared. The day the author of “A Brief History of Time” came to the conclusion that it was time to shorten the history of the Israeli occupation, he became a victim of abuse.

How Israeli it is to accuse him of capitulating to “irrelevant pressures,” as though he were not a certified genius with independent opinions; how typical to accuse him now of hypocrisy. He has every right to boycott Israel and not to boycott the United States and Britain – it is ridiculous to draw a comparison. Even if the latter two countries committed war crimes in Iraq, their war crimes had an end. In any case, one may choose not to eat meat but to eat fish. The decision to choose Israel as a symbol of immorality is not blunted in and of itself by the fact that other states behave the same way.

Also ridiculous is the insinuation that it was Noam Chomsky who persuaded Hawking to withdraw from the conference: What is wrong with such a meeting of intellectual giants? Israel shut its doors to Chomsky, in one of its lowest moments. If Hawking seeks to return, albeit not for the Peres festival, he is likely to meet a similar fate. But do not despair, O Israel: Cliff Richard is on his way.