Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Striking where it hurts

Taking a stand
There are few topics that bring so much controversy as the Israel-Palestine endless dispute; whether it be an article, a comment or a gesture, it's bound to create a heated and - in many an occasion- aggressive debate that very rarely becomes a constructive exchange that may somehow bring closer both sides, or at least some understanding.
The boycott of an Israeli conference earlier this month by one of the world's leading scientists as a protest for Israel's treatment of Palestinians was therefore the kind of political stand that would not leave anyone indifferent; and, of course, it didn't.
As predicted, the furore caused by the Cambridge University Professor was extraordinary; arguments on both sides tried to make their point and show how Hawking was right/wrong.
This is not the first time a well-known figure chooses to publicly condemn Israel for its behaviour regarding Palestine; and it won't be the last one.
What perhaps sets this protest apart is the fact that Stephen Hawking was always considered as a brilliant mind who rarely intervened in politics; that someone who is widely respected for his scientific achievements as well as his  fight against a degenerative disease decides to pull out of an academic conference in Jerusalem was perhaps an unexpected move.
By doing so, Hawking has brought to the table the old debate on the relevance/appropriateness of a boycott to Isreal,and  most particularly in this case, the academic boycott.
While I'm not 100% sure of the effectiveness of an academic boycott of Israeli per se, I can clearly see why Hawking decided not to rub shoulders with Shimon Peres, Israel's President, at a conference.
The debate is out there;unfortunately, there won't be a negotiated solution to the conflict any time soon (in my opinion, anyway) but Hawking's unequivocal gesture should make people think.