The plucky professor and the last bigoted democracy
By JAMAL KANJ
ISRAELI president Shimon Peres is hosting in Jerusalem this week a presidential conference called “Facing Tomorrow”. Its theme is the “human factor and its role in shaping our tomorrow”.
In addition to establishing an image as a world leader, Peres envisioned in 2008 a venue to assemble top international scientific and political minds to discuss “the way toward a better tomorrow for Israel, the Jewish people” and then “the entire world”.
This is the person who was a prime minister in 1996 when the Israeli army targeted a United Nations (UN) compound near the village of Qana, South Lebanon, killing more than 100 civilians, mostly women and children.
A UN inquiry concluded that contrary to repeated denials, Israel must have known civilians took shelter inside the UN camp as “two Israeli helicopters and a remotely piloted (reconnaissance) vehicle were present” in the area during and before the mortar shelling.
Amnesty International accused Israel of attacking the UN compound “intentionally”.
In a just world, the Israeli president would be arraigned at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed under his leadership. Instead, he is hallowed by hypocritical world leaders at a conference validating his hidebound vision of humanity.
His event might have gone unnoticed but for a towering international scientist, who refused to attend the conference. Stephen Hawking, the world’s foremost physicist, took an audacious step when he turned down the Israeli invitation.
Refusing to share the stage with former US president Bill Clinton – paid $500,000 for his appearance – Hawking opted to join a long list of more principled international writers, singers and artists who refused to visit Israel in protest at its occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians.
Israel and its Western pundits became concerned that Hawking, the most prominent international figure to join the boycott, could open a floodgate of public pronouncements from other international personalities opposing Israel’s racist practices. But instead of discussing the merits of his decision, Israel’s apologists filled the airwaves and print media demonising the world-renowned cosmologist and physicist, using their clichŽd Weapons of Mass Defamation (WMD) to silence critics of Israel.
A surrogate of Israel’s WMD, the uncouth Alan Dershowitz, had the nerve to call the world’s most eminent physicist an “ignoramus” and insinuated he was an anti-Semite.
Israel Maimon, chairman of the presidential conference, was quoted in the Guardian newspaper saying: “Israel is a democracy …. A boycott decision is incompatible with open democratic discourse.”
But Maimon forgot that Israel is exclusively a Jewish democracy, just as South Africa was once a “white” democracy.
Understanding this axiomatic relationship was part of Hawking’s evolving position on Palestine. He visited Israel at least four times earlier and saw firsthand the Jewish-only colonies on stolen land and a separation wall dividing Jews and Palestinians into two unequal societies.
In 2006, he expressed “democratically” to then prime minister Ehud Olmert his disappointment with Israel’s unjust occupation.
Nevertheless, the “Jewish democracy” indulged in its bigoted treatment of non-Jewish communities leading Hawking in 2009 to compare Israel to “South Africa before 1990″.
The chairman of the presidential conference who also denounced Hawking’s academic boycott must have forgotten that the US academic boycott of South Africa – the boycott was supported by elements from Zionist liberal academia – was effective in the fight against the apartheid regime.
I worked with the anti-apartheid movement in college when Israel and Ronald Reagan called for direct engagement with South Africa.
Fortunately, Israel and Reagan’s appeasement concept was brushed aside as the boycott movement in US universities gained momentum – leading to the isolation of the apartheid regime and eventually helping put an end to the system of “white” democracy.
By snubbing the Israeli presidential conference, the intrepid quadriplegic prodigy is shaping a “better tomorrow” for all of humanity by exposing the world’s last bigoted democracy.
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* Mr Kanj (www.jamalkanj.com) writes weekly newspaper column and publishes on several websites on Arab world issues. He is the author of “Children of Catastrophe,” Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. A version of this article was first published by the Gulf Daily News newspaper.