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May 13, 2013

Hawking and Mohammed

http://www.jewishjournal.com/david_suissa/article/hawking_and_mohammed

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking on June 20, 2010. Photo by Sheryl Nadler/Reuters

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking on June 20, 2010. Photo by Sheryl Nadler/Reuters

There was so much Jewish outrage last week in the wake of professor Steven Hawking’s decision to join the academic boycott against Israel, it’s hard to know where to start.

The most dramatic expression of that outrage could be found in the many commentaries and Facebook posts suggesting that if Hawking is going to boycott Israel, then why not also boycott the Israeli computer chip that enables him to communicate despite his severely handicapped state?

As Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote on JPost: “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?”

Hawking’s decision was problematic on many levels. Here is the world’s best-known scientist, a widely respected light of academia, adding his name to a vicious and discriminatory campaign to single out and delegitimize the Jewish state.

Who did he think he was helping with his boycott, besides those hell bent on undermining Israel?

Even well-known Israeli peacenik Akiva Eldar called the decision “stupid” and “shallow,” noting that the global boycott movement “is in opposition to Israel per se, and not against the occupation or against the settlements constructed beyond Israel’s formal boundaries …” and that it “advocates an economic, cultural and academic boycott, the withdrawal of all investments, and the implementation of sanctions against Israel, with no distinction made between the two sides of the Green Line.”

Israel has made its share of mistakes over the years, and, like many countries (including the United States), it can get quite heavy-handed and nasty when it feels threatened. This is no wimpy country. It is a tough nation hardened by the sobering fact of living its whole existence surrounded by unstable and hostile neighbors.

Still, despite this chronic hostility, Israel has managed to create a civil society that is, while far from perfect, the freest and most dignified in the Middle East — a society where Arabs have more freedom, human rights and economic opportunities than anywhere else in the region.

On top of that, it has become one of the world’s leading centers for scientific and medical innovation, contributing more scientific advances than all 22 countries of the Middle East combined.

This kind of Jewish success can inspire a lot of jealousy and resentment, especially if you’ve been taught since early childhood to hate the Jews because they’re the “sons of dogs.” No doubt, in my view, this has been a motivating force behind the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement: If you can’t emulate the Jewish state, then delegitimize it.

It is this dark movement Hawking has endorsed with his ill-advised decision. Instead of going after brutal dictatorships, where innocents are murdered and women are stoned to death, he picked on the little country that is consistently and unfairly singled out — Israel.

I have to confess, though, it’s hard for me to muster any negative feelings for someone who has lived his whole life as Hawking has. When I see pictures of him slumped in his wheelchair, I can’t help being moved by how one human being can overcome such overwhelming hardship for so long.

So, instead of getting upset at Hawking, I would rather we invite him to visit the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at the Sheba Medical Center in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan.

There, he would meet Mohammed al-Farra, a 3-year-old Arab toddler with no arms and no legs.

As Ruthie Blum noted in Israel Hayom, Mohammed was born in Gaza with a rare genetic disease. His parents abandoned him, and the Palestinian government refused to pay for his care.

As soon as he was born, he was rushed to Israel for emergency treatment. As reported in HuffPost, his genetic disorder left him with a weakened immune system, and an infection destroyed his hands and feet, requiring them to be amputated.

Since then, he has spent his days and nights in an Israeli hospital undergoing treatment and learning how to use prosthetic limbs. His grandfather lives with him. Mohammed has been warmly embraced and cared for by his Israeli doctors, who have arranged for him and his grandfather to live in the sunny pediatric ward.

I wonder what kind of boycott Hawking would have in mind after meeting little Mohammed, and after learning about the thousands of other Arab children from the West Bank and Gaza who are routinely cared for in Israeli hospitals?

Well, I can think of at least one: It would be a boycott of every country in the world that neglects to care for disabled children like Steven Hawking and Mohammed al-Farra. 

There might be a lot of countries on that list, but Israel won’t be one of them


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

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