Professor Stephen Hawking’s passing away has left a void for millions of people across the world — those who learned of the mysteries of the universe through his work, those inspired by his genius and overcoming of personal challenges, as also those with whom he shared political convictions and struggles.
While pushing the frontiers of what we know about the greatest questions of physics — the beginning, and the end, of the universe, time and space — Hawking also joined the ranks of conscientious and progressive voices across the world.
He opposed the Vietnam war, the invasion of Iraq, the cuts in the National Health Service in Britain, and more recently, the Palestinian call for the academic boycott of Israel.
In 2013, he was invited to speak at the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, which was being hosted by the late Israeli President Shimon Peres. Prof Hawking had earlier planned to express his opinion about the peace settlement at this gathering and had hoped to lecture in the occupied West Bank. He had also intended to state his opinion that “the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster”, as he noted in the letter he wrote to the organizers as he withdrew from the conference. In the same letter, he said he had been approached by Palestinian academics asking him to respect the boycott, and that he was withdrawing from the conference for the same.
On several other occasions, he had highlighted the injustices that Palestinians were facing under Israel’s military occupation, including Gaza in 2009, a situation he compared to that of pre-1990 South Africa.
Indeed, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which includes the Campaign Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, is inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement that included boycotts against the regime.
Prof Hawking joined the growing rank of academics who refuse to endorse and engage with Israeli academic institutions till Israel respects international law, ends its occupation and respects Palestinian human rights. The Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel also expressed sadness at the passing of Prof Hawking.
Apoorva Gautam is from Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, India (BDS India)