Stephen Hawking’s tumultuous relationship with Israel


By Middle East Affairs

The death Wednesday of world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has left the scientific world wanting, but Haaretz also summarizes his difficult relationship with Israel.

One of Hawking’s most important influences in life was Jakob Bekenstein, an Israeli physicist and professor who taught at Ben-Gurion University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem before moving to the United States.

Bekenstein had black hole theories that eventually led to Hawking’s theory that black holes give off radiation.

Hawking also owed gratitude to Israel for the computer-based system that allowed him to communicate. It ran on “a chip designed by Israel’s Intel team,” Haaretz said.

However, Hawking repeatedly expressed dissent toward the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, raising money for physics lectures in Palestine and, once, Haaretz reports, even boycotting a 2013 conference in Israel because of pressure from the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement.

In a letter to the conference organizers, Hawking wrote: “I have received a number of letters from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference.”

The conference organizers responded with a statement that said: “The academic boycott is in our view outrageous and improper, certainly for someone for whom the spirit of liberty lies at the basis of his human and academic mission. Israel is a democracy in which all individuals are free to express their opinions, whatever they may be. The imposition of a boycott is incompatible with open, democratic dialogue.”

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