“The anti-Semite Stephen Hawking can’t even wipe his own ass." “Someone should release the hand brake when he’s on a hill." “He should die already." These were just some of the comments left on Facebook after the most famous cosmologist in the world, Stephen Hawking, announced he was respecting the academic boycott of Israel.
In a letter released by the Guardian, he wrote: "I accepted the invitation to the [Israeli] 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.”
This is a brave stand for him to take and, as the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against the apartheid state of Israel gains strength, it is a position that is becoming more mainstream.
Unfortunately, many Australian politicians and academics who formally support Palestine are not willing to consider BDS because they are afraid of reprisals from conservative media.
The NSW Greens faced a prominent backlash when they voted for Marrickville council to join the BDS campaign. A coordinated attack was launched by the Murdoch press, who united with Labor and Liberal politicians and the Zionist lobby to try and break this expression of solidarity with Palestine.
In response, the Greens became divided. There were those, like NSW senator Lee Rhiannon, who believed the party need to campaign harder on the policy in order to explain it as far and wide as possible, those like NSW MLC Cate Faehrmann, former federal leader Bob Brown and Victorian leader Greg Barber who publicly condemned it, and those who wavered in the face of external and internal opposition.
This split ensured the defeat of BDS in Marrickville and also saw the NSW Greens withdraw their support for the policy as a whole.
NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham is a parliamentary friend of Israel. The national policy conference held last year supported an “initiative to drop from the platform any reference to particular countries (like Tibet, Palestine, East Timor and West Papua) and instead develop specific off-platform resolutions on these matters.”
The retreat by the Greens on BDS has had consequences for Palestine solidarity.
When Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defence, which in seven days saw the Israeli Defence Force kill 87 Palestinian civilians. In comparison, rockets launched by Hamas killed four Israeli civilians according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
Despite Israel killing almost 22 times more civilians in the conflict, the Greens said both sides were equally responsible for civilian deaths. A statement said: "The Australian Greens are deeply worried about the civilian death toll in Israel and Palestine, and urge both sides of the conflict to put down their weapons and respect a ceasefire."
This is an easy position to take but it absolves Israel of its responsibility for ongoing war, occupation and apartheid, which is deadly for Palestinians. It effectively blames people suffering oppression for their own oppression.
The truth is the majority who argue against BDS within the Greens aren’t doing it for tactical reasons, but for political reasons. They think the party is less likely to alienate people and be able to attract a wide spectrum of voters if they go soft on controversial issues.
They forget that the Greens was built on taking principled positions regardless of their popularity and that, through campaigning work, issues that are unpopular can become mainstream.
Backtracking in the face of conservative attacks only emboldens those opposed to justice for Palestinian people to intensify their attacks.
The Sydney University Students Representative Council passed a motion in April to support an academic boycott of Israel. They have now come under attack from the same alliance that opposed BDS in Marrickville.
The Australasian Union of Jewish Students called it “divisive and counterproductive”, while the leader of the NSW Labor party, John Robertson, said he had “proudly visited a Max Brenner outlet [part of the Israeli-owned Strauss group which sponsors an Israeli military unit] in an act of solidarity against the BDS movement”.
The momentum of the BDS campaign will continue to challenge left-wing people, and the Greens as a whole, to support it, and those who don’t will find themselves more and more isolated from mainstream opinion.
Palestinian people don't just face ideological attacks but military and economic attacks every day. If they can face that, surely people in Australia can stand up to negative editorials in the Australian and be proud to say we support the boycott of the apartheid state of Israel.