Friday, May 24, 2013

When a genius is hoodwinked...

Protest gone wrong Perhaps it wasn’t a good day think about writing a letter to Dr. Stephen Hawking. I had to admit that I was upset about another celebrity, professional golfer Sergio Garcia, for having made inanely racist remarks about Tiger Woods. Most likely, my ire was sparked by the thought that Garcia, frustrated about not being able to beat the world’s top-ranked golfer, chose to demean Woods as did the lackluster bully who taunted a seemingly defenseless shepherd like King David.
Such taunts, in the sports arena, weren’t new to me. Even I, as the lone Jew on our high school football team, had encountered similar shallow barbs. Chances are that Tiger will respond as I did; I honed my skills, played with even more fervor.
But I digress. Last night, prior to writing, I also watched an award-winning documentary, Follow Me, The Yoni Netanyahu Story.  Although I knew its history, I hadn’t known why Yoni had been so revered. Now I do. He was a hero’s hero; on July 4, 1976, he led an Israeli commando raid he had planned that saved the lives of 102 (out of 106) hostages from Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Athens, Greece.
In Athens, four Palestinian terrorists had boarded and later hijacked the plane to Benghazi, Libya. There it refueled before heading for Entebbe.
In addition to four hostages killed during that pre-dawn raid, one Israeli commando died. He was a Harvard educated Israeli, Yoni Netanyahu, older brother of Israel’s Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu. Yoni’s mission occurred almost four years after Palestinian terrorists massacred Israeli Olympians in Munich, Germany in September 1972. [Munich massacre - Yahoo! Sports   Cached
From Yahoo! Sports: On Sept. 5, 1972, a Palestinian terrorist group took 11 Israeli Olympic team members hostage. The standoff lasted 21 hours and ended ...]
Having that perspective, I wanted to rail against Hawking. Nonetheless, I felt bad about taking on a completely paralyzed man although he communicates fairly clearly thanks to a computer device that features an Israeli-designed chip. Also impacting me were memories of my Uncle, my father’s brother, who died of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, a devastating illness very similar to Hawking’s.
I wouldn’t wish either of those diseases on anyone.
That said, I sought an article from the left leaning Israeli paper, Haaretz, regarding Hawking’s decision to boycott a conference that “…will bring together people from the fields of government, economics, technology, science and entertainment to discuss the question of how to shape a better future for the world, the Jewish people and Israel.[Stephen Hawking confirms he is boycotting Israeli conference Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has canceled his planned appearance at next month's Presidential Conference…]
In that article, I’d anticipated a hearty approval of Hawking’s decision to heed the advice of his Palestinian academic cohorts. However, although Hawking may have pleased them, the Haaretz article focused on a more global view of the boycott against Israel that Hawking sought to support. Near the end of the article came this:
"Every so often there are local successes, like the Hawking case. But if you look at Europe, which is the bastion of the academic boycott it has the most prestigious scientific foundation, the ERC, which every country is competing [to get money] from. The Hebrew University is in fifth or sixth place in terms of the number of ERC grants it has received. That's important, because the decisions on these funds are made by Europeans. With competitive foundations of this sort, it's enough for one person to vote against, and you won't get the grant. From this standpoint, it seems the boycott is ineffective." [my emphasis]
Although I defend Hawking’s right to voice his opposition, I’m saddened by his decision to protest by not attending the conference. What good did it do? If he had engaged in debate at the conference, wouldn’t he have seen that the issue isn’t one-sided? Apparently, according to the article in Haaretz, some Palestinians accepted the invitation that Hawking rejected.
If I were to write a letter to Hawking, I would include this excerpt from the same article. Chances are that Hawking might think, as I do, that he had been manipulated.
In a subsequent conversation with Haaretz, Maimon noted that Hawking was being more Palestinian than the Palestinians: While he was boycotting the conference, other Palestinians had agreed to attend it as speakers.
"Hawking's stance strengthens the extremists," Maimon added. "After all, extremists don't talk; moderates talk. This boycott isn't a path that encourages dialogue, it only encourages the extremists."

                                                            B.Koplen 5/24/13

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