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Professor Hawking, A Boycott Is a Black Hole Too

09/05/2013 17:10 BST | Updated 09/07/2013 10:12 BST
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Dear Prof. Hawking:

When I was a boy in ninth grade, I received a book as a birthday present. It was your successful work, A Brief History of Time. At that time, we did not yet have the internet, so I scoured the papers and the news on radio and television for any scrap of information about you. I was incredulous: "How is it possible that a man in a wheelchair who can barely speak has made such important discoveries about space?", I asked my father.

Since then, twenty-five years after your book was published, my ears have been listening out for the sound of your name - for a return to those moments of my youth, to the sense of wonder at someone - you - who had proven that it is possible to do the impossible. That is, until Wednesday.

Because Wednesday you announced that you were cancelling your participation in the Israeli Presidential Conference. The reason was that you feel obligated to respect the academic boycott against Israel because of its treatment of the Palestinians. Your announcement was endorsed by spokespeople of a body called: "The British Committee for Universities in Palestine", another in a long list of organizations that are instigated by Palestinian elements and their partners in the cheap propaganda campaign known as BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions against Israel).

Boycotts are flawed in principle. But there is something even more outrageous when intellectuals, scientists and cultural leaders in particular boycott an entire people, any people. Because if there is one field in which there must be room for dialogue, for a cultural bridge, for moral change, it is precisely here, on the same platform on which you and your colleagues stand. If I had to define this in your scientific language, I would say that the boycott creates reverse, negative energy, a vacuum. In my words - it leads to extremism, a hardening of positions, and deterioration. Yes, a boycott leads to a void that does not allow for dialogue, persuasion or discussion. Not with the boycotted people and certainly not with your colleagues, Israel's scientists, researchers, artists and writers.

How often it happens that we find a song that has made us think differently about something, about somebody, about a particular people? How often we realize that the discovery of a foreign scientist, whose name we can barely pronounce, has changed our lives forever? How often it is that the director of a political film has caused us to say to someone next to us: "You know, apparently it really isn't ok."

Professor Hawking, if you wanted to have an influence on the future of the Palestinians and on what you claim is Israel's problematic treatment of them, then it would be important for you to be here, in Jerusalem, Israel's capital, to say those things. Say them so that they resonate, provoke debate, make headlines. Say them so that we will listen, so that we nod our heads, so that we go back to our loved ones and say, "You know, I heard Prof. Hawking today and there's something in what he says..."

Because as hard as it is for us to hear what you have to say, Israel is still a vibrant and lively democracy, one with freedom of speech that is unparalleled, not only in the Middle East but also in the Western world from which you come. Because it is permissible and appropriate to expect that an intellectual of your stature would face the questions, would try to understand that there is a gray area of reality between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I, Professor Hawking, have grown up. I am no longer a boy. I have come to understand that reality is generally not simple. It is not black or white, but mostly gray. It is a pity that you of all people, the object of my admiration, should have chosen to boycott me, the same child with a dream. It saddens me that you have chosen the black option, the option of boycott - the one that creates black holes in the relations between people's and countries, the same black holes that swallow up all that crosses their path. It is just this that I learned from the book that I got as a present, A Brief History of Time.

And what will be with the next young reader who gets your book for his birthday? Will he or she also learn the same important life lesson that I was privileged to receive in my youth? Sadly, your support for the boycott passes down to the next generation the failure of the culture of dialogue and the betrayal of all that is right and good in our millennia-old basic values: the values of science, culture and art.