by Bradley Burston
May 9, 2013
Professor Steven Plaut teaches business finance and economics at the University of Haifa. He also writes articles, pamphlets and blog posts intended to defend Israel.
This is what he offered in defense of Israel this week, in response to physicist Stephen Hawking's decision to boycott next month's Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, over Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
"I have a suggestion," Plaut wrote on Wednesday, in a reference to the wheelchair-bound noted scientist, and to a 1985 incident in which Palestinian gunmen commandeered an Italian cruise ship, murdering a disabled American Jewish passenger and throwing his body overboard:
"I suggest that the people of Israel send Hawking for a free trip on the Achille Lauro!!"
Plaut's argument, that the proper punishment for boycotting Israel should be execution, was only slightly more obscene than that of attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Shurat Hadin-Israel Law Center Organization, a right-wing pro-Israel not-for-profit whose stated primary goals include "defending human rights" and conducting a "civil war" in court against global terror.
In a statement, Darshan-Leitner alluded to the fact that Hawking is almost entirely paralyzed and communicates through a speech generating device:
"His whole computer-based communication system runs on a chip designed by Israel's Intel team. I suggest that if he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet."
For years, prominent voices on the ostensibly pro-Israel far-right have been competing to see who can be the most outrageous in cruelty, the most childish in bullying, while pursuing a career in what they call Israel advocacy.
Just last week, the New York-based Jewish Press, which describes itself as "the largest independent weekly Jewish newspaper in the United States" and "a tireless advocate for the state of Israel," published a news article that used classic anti-Semitic imagery in the service of a right-wing polemic on Israel.
Taking actor Dustin Hoffman to task for accepting the Muslim Public Affairs Council's invitation to present an award to the Academy Award-nominated film "Five Broken Cameras," Jewish Press correspondent Lori Lowenthal Marcus wrote:
"Hoffman is someone whose Jewishness seems to have played very little role in his life other than as a trigger to anti-Semitic bullies, and the fact that his height, his nose, his nasal voice and his plucky, outsider roles are all stereotypically Jewish."
Later, Marcus, who also serves as president of the far-right Z Street Israel advocacy organization, concludes:
"So, in the end, Dustin Hoffman with his honking nasal voice and Semitic nose may be emulating the pattern of the mindless good-looking movie stars against whom he rose as the iconic non-handsome, non-sexy male movie star of the counter-culture years."
Increasingly, the rabid "Pro-Israel" far-right has taken on as principal targets Jews whose most cherished wish is to see Israel become a stronger, more democratic, more livable society.
Commentator and media personality Pamela Geller, whose bread and butter "pro-Israel" tack is hatred of Muslims, has branched out to target writer and editor Peter Beinart as a "vomit-inducing kapo."
Geller, at times borrowing her writing style from Stormfront, has also called the Daily Beast's Beinart "the pet Jew turncoat" of Newsweek/Daily Beast Editor-In-Chief Tina Brown.
Of columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, Geller writes: "Jihad Jeff Goldberg, from one Jew to another, go to hell. Cuz it's foe shizzle you are going to rot there."
It has to stop. It has to stop here and now. When self-styled pro-Israel advocates on the far-right practice incitement and repulsive bullying to further their cause, when hate speech becomes the go-to tool in their belt, it is time for people who care about Israel's future to take a stand, call them out, shut them down, fight their smirking, obscene, proudly bigoted pronouncements.
The "pro-Israel" far right takes full advantage of - even while scorning - its liberal opponents' beliefs in freedom of expression and tolerance for democracy's sake. Their vile views regularly grace newspaper columns and are granted platforms by synagogues and Jewish organizations.
And it's only getting worse. It may have been anger over the realization that most Western Jews disagree with them, it may have been input from the high-IQ snots of Im Tirtzu, it may have been the sense that their beloved settlers have won a final and permanent victory in Israel, but of late, something terrible and growing is infecting far-right "pro-Israel advocacy."
It has to stop. We have to stop meekly putting up with it. Otherwise, as we've seen a number of times recently, if smartly dressed thugs of the right can disrupt a serious debate on Israel's future by booing and delegitimizing a two-state solution as being anti-Israel, the way forward is clear.
If the bigots, the fanatics, the Apartheid apologists, the velveteen fascists of the pro-Israel far-right are freely granted platforms as respected "experts" on Israel, no one who hates Israel as bigoted, fanatic, Apartheid-ruled and fascistic - no one who wants to see Israel ostracized to death - will ever need to say another word.
The Plauts, the Gellers, and a host of others will have already done their work for them.
[Bradley Burston is a Haaretz columnist and Senior Editor of Haaretz.com which publishes his blog, "A Special Place in Hell."
During the first Palestinian uprising, Burston served as Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, and was the paper's military correspondent in the 1991 Gulf War.
In the mid-1990s he covered Israeli-Arab peace talks for Reuters. In 2006, he received the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Mideast Journalism, presented at the United Nations.
A native of Los Angeles, Burston moved to Israel after graduation from Berkeley. He was part of a group which established Kibbutz Gezer, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Burston served in the IDF as a combat medic, later studying medicine in Be'er Sheva for two years before turning to journalism. He is married and has two daughters.]
Political motive revealed after Cambridge University first claimed scientist's non-attendance was on medical grounds
by Harriet Sherwood and Matthew Kalman in Israel, and Sam Jones
May 9, 2013
Stephen Hawking pictured with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2006.
credit - Photograph: Yoav Lemmer/AFP/Getty Images
The celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking became embroiled in a deepening furore today over his decision to boycott a prestigious conference in Israel in protest over the state's occupation of Palestine.
Hawking, a world-renowned scientist and bestselling author who has had motor neurone disease for 50 years, cancelled his appearance at the high-profile Presidential Conference, which is personally sponsored by Israel's president, Shimon Peres, after a barrage of appeals from Palestinian academics.
The move, denounced by prominent Israelis and welcomed by pro-Palestinian campaigners, entangled Cambridge University - Hawking's academic base since 1975 - which initially claimed the scientist's withdrawal was on medical grounds, before conceding a political motivation.
The university's volte-face came after the Guardian presented it with the text of a letter sent from Hawking to the organisers of the high-profile conference in Jerusalem, clearly stating that he was withdrawing from the conference in order to respect the call for a boycott by Palestinian academics.
The full text of the letter, dated 3 May, said:
"I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank. However, 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. Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster."
Hawking's decision to throw his weight behind the academic boycott of Israel met with an angry response from the organisers of the Presidential Conference, an annual event hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres.
"The academic boycott against Israel is in our view outrageous and improper, certainly for someone for whom the spirit of liberty lies at the basis of his human and academic mission," said conference chairman Israel Maimon. "Israel is a democracy in which all individuals are free to express their opinions, whatever they may be. The imposition of a boycott is incompatible with open, democratic dialogue."
Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador to London, said: "It is a great shame that Professor Hawking has withdrawn from the president's conference ... Rather than caving into pressure from political extremists, active participation in such events is a far more constructive way to promote progress and peace."
The Wolf Foundation, which awarded Hawking the Wolf prize in physics in 1988, said it was "sad to learn that someone of Professor Hawking's standing chose to capitulate to irrelevant pressures and will refrain from visiting Israel".
But Palestinians welcomed Hawking's decision. "Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking's support for an academic boycott of Israel," said Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. "We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa."
Palestinian academics sent a barrage of letters to Hawking in recent weeks in an attempt to persuade him to join the boycott movement.
Samia al-Botmeh, of Birzeit University in the West Bank, said: "We tried to communicate two points to him. First, that Israel is a colonial entity that involves violations of the rights of the Palestinians, including academic freedom, and then asking him to stand in solidarity with Palestinian academic colleagues who have called for solidarity from international academics in the form of boycotting Israeli academia and academic institutions."
Hawking's decision to withdraw from the conference was "fantastic", said Botmeh. "I think it's wonderful that he has acted on moral grounds. That's very ethical and very important for us as Palestinians to know and understand that there are principled colleagues in the world who are willing to take a stand in solidarity with an occupied people."
Comments on social media in Israel were overwhelmingly opposed to Hawking's move, with a small number engaging in personal abuse over his physical condition. A minority of commentators supported his stance on Israel's 46-year occupation of the Palestinian territories.
In addition to the letter sent by Hawking to the conference organisers, a statement in his name was sent to the British Committee for the Universities in Palestine, confirming his withdrawal from the conference for political reasons. The wording was approved by Hawking's personal assistant after consultation with Tim Holt, the acting director of communications at Cambridge University.
On Wednesday morning, following the Guardian's revelation that Hawking was boycotting the Presidential Conference, Holt issued a statement saying: "Professor Hawking will not be attending the conference in Israel in June for health reasons - his doctors have advised against him flying."
However, a later statement said: "We have now received confirmation from Professor Hawking's office that a letter was sent on Friday to the Israeli president's office regarding his decision not to attend the Presidential Conference, based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott."
In a telephone conversation with the Guardian, Holt offered "my apologies for the confusion".
This year's conference is expected to be attended by 5,000 people from around the world, including business leaders, academics, artists and former heads of state. Former US president Bill Clinton, former UK prime minister Tony Blair, former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev, Prince Albert of Monaco and Barbra Streisand have accepted invitations, according to organisers.