Has Stephen Hawking really left the company of Albert Einstein, an avowed Zionist who worked to create the State of Israel, and replaced him with the august company of Elvis Costello and other Israel boycotters?
In 1998, I hosted Hawking for a lecture at Oxford, where I introduced him to 1,000 students. He could not have been more humble and approachable. Aside from his lecture, delivered through his voice synthesizer, on string theory — little of which I understood but which my students assured me was “brilliant” — I remember his love of babies and practical jokes.
Our daughter Rochel Leah had just been born and Hawking and his wife asked us if he could hold her. I can still picture in my mind how his wife took the baby, placed her on his lap, and then wrapped his enfeebled arms around the baby, at whom he stared with a huge grin for minutes. He was enraptured.
After the lecture was over and as we walked Hawking to his car, he suddenly raced off in his wheelchair to Haagen-Dazs where we consumed in ice cream. His wife chuckled that he loved giving his hosts the slip as he indulged his childlike spirit. All who heard and met him were deeply impressed with his humility and accessibility.
And now this, digging a knife publicly into Israel’s back.
Why would one of the world’s leading academic minds condemn the only democracy in the Middle East? Why would he attack a country, situated in a region of such deep misogyny, that celebrates women succeeding in every area of academic, professional, and political life? Why would Hawking pounce on a nation who, with neighbors like Hamas that routinely murder gays on false accusations of collaboration, grants homosexuals every equal right? And why would he condemn a country whose Arab citizens are the freest and least afraid in the entire Middle East?
Could it be because Israel has still not settled the status of the West Bank? But if that is the case, surely Hawking knows that Israel has seen thousands of its citizens slaughtered in gruesome terror attacks ever since it granted autonomy to the Palestinian authority to control 97% of the Palestinian population?
Could it be because Israel has yet to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state?
But then Hawking is a highly educated man and he knows that after Israel withdrew fully from Gaza — dismantling its communities and forcibly removing its settlers — that it lead to tens of thousands of rockets being fired at Israeli hospitals and schools. And besides, Israel has practically begged the Palestinians to come back to the negotiating table without any pre-conditions to discuss just that, the creation of a two-state solution, but the Palestinians have refused.
Perhaps its because Hawking believes the demonstrably false lie that Israel is an apartheid state. But then a scientist like Hawking would check facts before he would embrace such fraudulence and could easily discover that Arabs serve in the Israel Knesset — where they freely and regularly disagree with Israel — as well as the Israeli Supreme Court, the civil service, and every other area of Israeli life.
No, one must conclude that for all his academic brilliance Hawking might just be lacking in simple common sense.
In his statement embracing the boycott of the Jewish state, Hawking said, “I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this I must withdraw from the conference.”
One would think that Hawking’s response to these academics might be a call to, say, Hamas to start using the billions channeled to the Palestinians as the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid into building universities rather than buying bombs, or educating women rather than tacitly allowing the honor killings of young Palestinian women whose only crime is to have a boyfriend.
No, Hawking decided instead to condemn the country whose scholars have won ten Nobel prizes, from a population of six million, while the entire Arab world, numbering in the hundreds of millions, have won two, outside the peace prize (another four). Clearly, a knowledge of physics is no guarantor of a knowledge of foreign affairs.
Since Hawking is so often called the Einstein of his generation, it is worth reminding him that Einstein was a committed Zionist who traveled around the United States with Chain Weizmann to raise money for the creation of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an institution that Hawking now refuses to even visit.
In a 1921 letter to his friend Friedrich Zangger, Einstein wrote, “On Saturday I'm off to America — not to speak at universities (though there will probably be that, too, on the side) but rather to help in the founding of the Jewish University in Jerusalem. I feel an intense need to do something for this cause.”
Separately, in a letter to Maurice Solovine, Einstein wrote, “I am not at all eager to go to America but am doing it only in the interests of the Zionists, who must beg for dollars to build educational institutions in Jerusalem and for whom I act as high priest and decoy . . . I do what I can to help those in my tribe who are treated so badly everywhere.”
When in 1948 President Truman recognized the new Jewish State of Israel, Einstein declared it "the fulfillment of our dream.” How unfortunate that a man as visionary as Stephen Hawking can peer so deeply into the Universe but it is so myopic as to fail to see the righteousness of Israel’s cause even as it stares him right in the face.
Rabbi Boteach is, among other things, the creator of created the Oxford L’Chaim Society, which for 11 years hosted world leaders lecturing on values-based leadership.