With his decision to boycott the President’s conference in Israel next month Professor Stephen Hawking, the British theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author – who has been described as possibly the cleverest human being alive – has put the cat among the pigeons and no mistake.

The Israeli Presidential Conference is not a scientific event, but brings together global leaders and experts to discuss the world’s problems and propose solutions. This year’s attendees – at the event where Professor Hawking will not be present – are believed to include Mikhail Gorbachev and Bill Clinton.

Both sides are making much of Hawking’s decision; obviously, it’s a public relations coup for the Palestinians. The story has provoked thousands of words in the international media and given journalists an opportunity to draw parallels between the behaviour of the State of Israel towards Palestinians and the now defunct apartheid regime in South Africa.

For Israelis, the results of Professor Hawking’s crisis of conscience has not been so positive, they feel he behaved misguidedly and not a little impolitely in turning down the opportunity to throw in his two pennyworth with the former leaders of Russia and the United States. His ‘hubris’ in rejecting the invitation brought the pro-Zionist bloggers and tweeters out in force.

Hawking would doubtless be astonished to hear himself described as a neo-Nazi and an anti Semite for his decision to turn down the opportunity of hob-nobbing with the Israeli and international elite however, this is how a large number of social media commentators chose to describe the learned professor.

He was also derided as ‘a cripple’ and ‘a spastic’ on one social networking site, although quite what Professor Hawking’s medical condition – he suffers from motor neurone disease – has to do with his decision to boycott the Israeli conference is beyond me and, I suspect, millions of others who have watched the saga unfold.

Professor Hawking clearly weighed the evidence and made a decision not to be part of the presidential jollifications. What Israel resents is that this awesome man does not approve of its treatment of Palestinians and was brave enough to speak out publicly.

It’s hard when someone holds a mirror up to your face and, however young and beautiful you may have felt only seconds before, the truth is revealed in the looking glass.

Sometimes reality can be unspeakably ugly.

Pat Lancaster

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