On Tuesday 7th May, BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine) posted on their website and tweeted that Professor Stephen Hawking had declined an invitation to a conference in Jerusalem, to be hosted by war criminal Shimon Peres – he had joined the academic boycott of the apartheid styate. The story went around the world and was all over mainstream and social media on Tuesday evening. My account is here.
By Wednesday there was some confusion with Zionist sources claiming that Professor Hawking was not going purely for health reasons, that he had not joined the boycott. Much of this stemmed from Cambridge University whose spokesman Tim Holt put that misinformation out, the issue was however clarified by Wednesday afternoon when said spokesman had to admit that Hawking had sent a letter to the conference organisers stating that he was declining to attend because he was respecting the Palestinian call to boycott, nothing to do with health grounds.
Hawking’s Letter: “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.”
Mathew Kalman wrote up the account here which vindicated his story and that of BRICUP who held the line throughout.
Even Zionist sources such as CiF Watch and much of the Israeli press had the story CLARIFIED as to Hawking supporting the boycott by Wednesday afternoon. It was also all over Facebook and Twitter.
So basically what happened here is that everyone interested and even some not interested in this knew the real story by Wednesday afternoon… EXCEPT that is Mark Weiss, the Irish Times correspondent from occupied Palestine (not that he seems to know that either…)
On Thursday his piece in the Irish Times he characterised the idea that Hawking might have been boycotting as a claim coming from “Pro-Palestinian groups” and followed it up by stating: “However, Cambridge university spokesman Tim Holt said Prof Hawking’s decision was based strictly on health concerns. “For health reasons, his doctors said he should not be flying at the moment so he’s decided not to attend.”
Weiss then devotes most of the rest of his piece to Israeli concerns about the boycott and reports one especially vile suggestion that Hawking decommission his means of communication as it was supposedly designed in Israel. Note, this is written as if it were a normal suggestion, so the Irish Times runs a bigoted cut at Stephen Hawking’s disability with no disassociating comment or disclaimer. In Haaretz, this was actually described as “obscene”. It is outrageous that the Irish Times should just publish such abelist hate speech without acknowledging it as such.
Apart from this being Weiss’s usual style of writing purely from the Israeli perspective, it is simply astonishing that there was no fact checking done on story of this significance concerning such an eminent person. As I said above, this information was ALL OVER THE INTERNET from Wednesday afternoon. The Irish Times has positioned itself as a voice of authority in Ireland and the self-satisfaction of the majority of its writers is difficult to stomach. While hating their opinions and agenda is one thing, for the facts to be so wrong is truly dreadful.
This annoyed me more than their usual schtick and I have some (Irish) time on my hands so I called the foreign editor and pointed out the inaccuracies and errors in the piece and let him know that the correct information had been widely available since the previous afternoon. He was pretty sniffy with me and when I asked would they clarify/correct, he told me he would “examine” the evidence first. Unable to fit back in my box, I mailed the information on to him – our exchange is below:
I just spoke to you on the phone about the erroneous information in the Mark Weiss piece on Stephen Hawking joining academic boycott of Israel.
In the IT piece, Weiss says: “However, Cambridge university spokesman Tim Holt said Prof Hawking’s decision was based strictly on health concerns. “For health reasons, his doctors said he should not be flying at the moment so he’s decided not to attend.”
However, since yesterday afternoon, the clarification from Cambridge has been in the public domain, on twitter, Facebook etc.
This is the journalist’s account of the trajectory of the story:
This is the Guardian updated today, this was available from yesterday: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/may/08/hawking-israel-boycott-furore
Electronic Intifada yesterday afternoon:
I wrote this myself last night, so there was no shortage of sources for either the IT or Weiss to verify the claims in the piece.
In fact a Google search for “Stephen Hawking boycott Israel” throws up 325,000 at the time of writing (Wed eve).
“There was an email exchange showing quite clearly that Hawking’s personal assistant and Tim Holt had both approved the BRICUP announcement that sparked my interest on Tuesday night. And there was Hawking’s letter, sent to the conference organizers on May 3 on Cambridge University letterhead, setting out clearly his reasons for pulling out: no health issues, all boycott. It had been copied to several other people. One of them was kind enough to share it with me.
“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,” wrote Hawking. “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.”
To be honest, it is astonishing that the Irish Times would publish a piece such as Weiss’s without at least fact checking, especially when the person in question is so eminent and the issue so important.
Thanks for this. We were clearly behind events on this one and were not aware of Holt/Cambridge’s change. Will report the accurate situation asap.
That’s good to hear. It strains credibility however, that Mark Weiss was ‘behind events’ on this given that even the Israeli press was reporting the correct version yesterday.
I would hope the Irish Times would give some coverage to the vile abuse that has been directed Stephen Hawking’s way by Israel supporters as reported by the Daily Express among other publications.
He is also being subjected to much name calling and venom on his Facebook page from anti-Palestinian posters
But the piece was not corrected that day, that evening, nor has it been since. In Friday’s edition, in a Weiss piece on Israel’s illegal settlement building, this is tacked on at the end: “In a separate development, Cambridge university spokesman Tim Holt has confirmed that renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking did in fact decide to cancel his participation in next month’s president’s conference in Jerusalem due to the Israel boycott. Mr Holt had earlier released a statement claiming Mr Hawking decided not to travel for health reasons.”
That’s it,that’s the ‘correction’. That’s the standard we can expect from the Irish Times. So anyone who read the original piece on Hawking and who didn’t read the settlement piece the next day would still be MISinformed by the Irish Times. Unless they read it elsewhere, they would believe that, as reported by the Irish Times, Stephen Hawking had pulled out of a conference in Jerusalem for health reasons. They would be unaware of the immense boost given to the BDS campaign by someone of Hawking’s stature joining it. The online version still retains the original, massive error.
The Irish Times has serious form for misreporting the cultural boycott of Israel and indeed launching a sustained attack on the IPSC (Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign), Raymond Deane in particular. Harry Browne documented it brilliantly here and it is worthy of re-reading as a reminder of how power misrepresents and distorts truth. My own thoughts on that representation and attempts to dictate resistance are here too.
The reason I mentioned “venom” in my mail to the foreign editor is that the IPSC was consistently and wrongly accused of directing it at Irish band Dervish in order to get them to cancel playing Israel. Despite considerable evidence to the contrary not only being freely available on Facebook and being sent to them, they never retracted nor corrected this mischaracterisation of Irish BDS campaigners. Of course we can be absolutely sure that the Irish Times won’t look at any of the abuse directed at Hawking by supporters of apartheid, preferring to deal only in imagined venom. Indeed, they quoted one of the most egregious suggestions as if it were part of a normal discourse between human beings.
Their coverage of Palestine is risible and always, always through the prism of Israel’s rights/security, through that of orientalism and dehumanisation and othering, through racism. Trying to get pieces by Palestinians into the paper is next to impossible, their voices surplus to requirements.
The question is WHY? Laziness, ineptitude, agenda? The lethal combination of all three?
The Irish Times, the Story of Why – the end result “behind the events”.
The free availability of alternative media which is not only reliable and up to date, but not agenda driven, should push publications in the mainstream media to raise their standards, in this case it seems to push it to ditch them.
BDS apartheid until it ends.
There’s a Facebook page here to like: Stephen Hawking: Thank You for Supporting the Academic Boycott of Israel