On Stephen Hawking and Israel, an Open Letter

May 27, 2013 10:17 am 25 comments

Stephen Hawking. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Prof. Malcolm Levitt
Dept. of Chemistry
Southampton University
11th May 2013

Dear Professor Levitt,

I am not a chemist nor, indeed, a scientist of any kind. My academic background exists in a very different field, but one, I hope, that is of articular relevance to the subject of this e-mail. I am a former lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies and a former editor of The Middle East Quarterly, an international journal. My PhD was in an adjunct area of Persian Studies. I have a particular interest in the Middle East (where I have lived, first in Iran, later in Morocco) and my several visits to Israel have created in me a particular interest in matters relating to that country, both religious and political.

I was alerted today to a statement you made recently relating to the decision by Professor Stephen Hawking to boycott a conference due to be held in Israel, when you said ‘Israel has a totally explicit policy of making life impossible for the non-Jewish population and I find it totally unacceptable.’ Assuming I have quoted you correctly, I feel impelled to ask you where on earth you obtained such a manifestly nonsensical view. Like anyone, I feel free to criticize Israel when its government policies stray from the straight and narrow. Like any country, Israel makes mistakes. But when critics level accusations that are simply divorced from reality – that Israel practises apartheid, for example, or that it is ‘a Nazi state’ – then I cannot let such remarks pass by.

Israel is the one country in the Middle East (and often far beyond) of which it plainly and categorically cannot be said that it ‘has a totally explicit policy of making life impossible’ for adherents of any but the dominant faith. In Iran, for example, members of the indigenous Baha’i religion (about which I have written extensively) are hanged, imprisoned, denied employment in all professions, refused entry to the universities, and are threatened with genocide. Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews there are treated harshly. For many, life is impossible. Jews have been driven out of all the Arabs countries. In most Arab countries (notably Egypt), Christians are persecuted, churches are destroyed, and whole communities have been leaving over the past ten years and more. Those are all countries you would do better to condemn.

Israel is the only country in the Middle East whose Christian population has risen steadily since 1948. And Israel’s treatment of the Baha’is is exemplary: they have their international centre in Haifa, where they have built gardens, terraces, and white marble buildings facing the Mediterranean, half of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that puts the Iranian regime to shame. The other half of the UNESCO site is situated outside Acre and contains the holiest of the Baha’I shrines. In Iran, every single one of the Baha’i holy places has been bulldozed, never to be rebuilt. Every Baha’i cemetery has met the same fate.

In Israel, then 1967 Protection of Holy Places Law guarantees the safety of all Jewish and non-Jewish sacred sites:

1. The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.

1. Whosoever desecrates or otherwise violates a Holy Place shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of seven years.

2. Whosoever does anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of five years.

1. This Law shall add to, and not derogate from, any other law.

2. The Minister of Religious Affairs is charged with the implementation of this Law, and he may, after consultation with, or upon the proposal of, representatives of the religions concerned and with the consent of the Minister of Justice make regulations as to any matter relating to such implementation.

3. This Law shall come into force on the date of its adoption by the Knesset.

This Law is rigorously applied to Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Baha’i and other holy places. There is nothing remotely like it in any Islamic country. In Saudi Arabia it is expressly forbidden to build churches, synagogues, temples, and it is illegal for Christians and others even to meet in their own homes to worship.

The Israeli law of citizenship and other related laws confer on all citizens the same rights and responsibilities. This applies to non-Jews as fully as to Jews. Arabs are full citizens of the state, they may vote in all elections, they may form political parties (and there are quite a few of them), they may stand for parliament (and a great many serve in it), they serve as members of the Supreme Court, as judges in other courts, as university teachers and professors, 20% of all students in all universities are Arabs (with Arabs forming 18% of the population), and so on. There is, quite flatly, no law or regulation calling for any form of apartheid. Go to Israel (and it may help you a lot to do so) and watch: no restaurants barred to Arabs, no shops barred to Arabs (Christian or Muslim), no buses for Jews only, no trains, no university campuses, no hotels, no beaches. All Israelis have the same rights.

Not only that, but consider the situation of women in Muslim countries, especially now that Salafi and other radical Muslim groups are taking overacross the region. In Israel, women have full rights with men. That includes Muslim and Christian women. In all Muslim countries, homosexuals face hanging, flogging, and other cruel punishments. In Israel, they hold gay pride marches. Muslim and Christian as well as Jewish men who are gay only have rights and protection under the law in Israel.

I have hinted at religious freedom and its denial in all Muslim states. The Israeli position has been set out thus:

“Every person in Israel enjoys freedom of conscience, of belief, of religion, and of worship. This freedom is guaranteed to every person in every enlightened, democratic regime, and therefore it is guaranteed to every person in Israel. It is one of the fundamental principles upon which the State of Israel is based… This freedom is partly based on Article 83 of the Palestine Order in Council of 1922, and partly it is one of those fundamental rights that “are not written in the book” but derive directly from the nature of out state as a peace-loving, democratic state’… On the basis of the rules – and in accordance with the Declaration of Independence – every law and every power will be interpreted as recognizing freedom of conscience, of belief, of religion, and of worship.”

I find it remiss of you, as someone endowed with considerable intellect, to have been so grossly misled about the reality of life in Israel. Your statement goes beyond the limits of reasonable and fair discourse. I can only consider you to have been misled by unprincipled persons who wish to disseminate falsehoods about Israel for base motives. In the face of the facts I have given and your freedom to board a plane to Israel in order to see all of this for yourself, I have to ask you to apologize to the citizens of a moral, ethical and democratic people, both Jews and Arabs, who have endured almost daily attacks from enemies determined to wipe them from the face of the planet. That Jewish Israelis have had the patience and moral strength to hold out the hand of friendship to so many Arab citizens while experiencing suicide attacks and rocket fire from their brethren across the border should inspire you to think again. As a university teacher you have a responsibility to dissociate yourself from such a totally explicit lie as the one you have uttered. Please reassure me that you understand the points I have tried to make.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin


Prof. Malcolm Levitt
Dept. of Chemistry
Southampton University

11th May 2013

Dear Professor Levitt,

I am not a chemist nor, indeed, a scientist of any kind. My academic background exists in a very different field, but one, I hope, that is of articular relevance to the subject of this e-mail. I am a former lecturer
in Arabic and Islamic Studies and a former editor of The Middle East Quarterly, an international journal. My PhD was in an adjunct area of Persian Studies. I have a particular interest in the Middle East (where I
have lived, first in Iran, later in Morocco) and my several visits to Israel have created in me a particular interest in matters relating to that country, both religious and political.

I was alerted today to a statement you made recently relating to the decision by Professor Stephen Hawking to boycott a conference due to be held in Israel, when you said ‘Israel has a totally explicit policy of making life impossible for the non-Jewish population and I find it totally unacceptable.’ Assuming I have quoted you correctly, I feel impelled to ask you where on earth you obtained such a manifestly nonsensical view. Like anyone, I feel free to criticize Israel when its government policies stray from the straight and narrow. Like any country, Israel makes mistakes. But when critics level accusations that are simply divorced from reality – that Israel practises apartheid, for example, or that it is ‘a Nazi state’ –
then I cannot let such remarks pass by.

Israel is the one country in the Middle East (and often far beyond) of which it plainly and categorically cannot be said that it ‘has a totally explicit policy of making life impossible’ for adherents of any but the
dominant faith. In Iran, for example, members of the indigenous Baha’i religion (about which I have written extensively) are hanged, imprisoned, denied employment in all professions, refused entry to the universities, and are threatened with genocide. Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews there are treated harshly. For many, life is impossible. Jews have been driven out of all the Arabs countries. In most Arab countries (notably Egypt), Christians are persecuted, churches are destroyed, and whole communities
have been leaving over the past ten years and more. Those are all countries you would do better to condemn.

Israel is the only country in the Middle East whose Christian population has risen steadily since 1948. And Israel’s treatment of the Baha’is is exemplary: they have their international centre in Haifa, where they have built gardens, terraces, and white marble buildings facing the Mediterranean, half of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that puts the Iranian regime to shame. The other half of the UNESCO site is situated outside Acre and contains the holiest of the Baha’I shrines. In Iran, every single one of the Baha’i holy places has been bulldozed, never to be rebuilt. Every Baha’i cemetery has met the same fate.

In Israel, then 1967 Protection of Holy Places Law guarantees the safety of all Jewish and non-Jewish sacred sites:

1. The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.

1. Whosoever desecrates or otherwise violates a Holy Place shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of seven years.

2. Whosoever does anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places shall be liable to
imprisonment for a term of five years.

1. This Law shall add to, and not derogate from, any other law.

2. The Minister of Religious Affairs is charged with the implementation of this Law, and he may, after consultation with, or upon the proposal of, representatives of the religions concerned and with the consent of the Minister of Justice make regulations as to any matter relating to such implementation.

3. This Law shall come into force on the date of its adoption by the Knesset.

This Law is rigorously applied to Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Baha’i and other holy places. There is nothing remotely like it in any Islamic country. In Saudi Arabia it is expressly forbidden to build churches, synagogues, temples, and it is illegal for Christians and others even to meet in their own homes to worship.

The Israeli law of citizenship and other related laws confer on all citizens the same rights and responsibilities. This applies to non-Jews as fully as to Jews. Arabs are full citizens of the state, they may vote in all elections, they may form political parties (and there are quite a few of them), they may stand for parliament (and a great many serve in it), they serve as members of the Supreme Court, as judges in other courts, as university teachers and professors, 20% of all students in all universities are Arabs (with Arabs forming 18% of the population), and so on. There is, quite flatly, no law or regulation calling for any form of apartheid. Go to Israel (and it may help you a lot to do so) and watch: no restaurants
barred to Arabs, no shops barred to Arabs (Christian or Muslim), no buses for Jews only, no trains, no university campuses, no hotels, no beaches. All Israelis have the same rights.

Not only that, but consider the situation of women in Muslim countries, especially now that Salafi and other radical Muslim groups are taking overacross the region. In Israel, women have full rights with men. That includes Muslim and Christian women. In all Muslim countries, homosexuals face hanging, flogging, and other cruel punishments. In Israel, they hold gay pride marches. Muslim and Christian as well as Jewish men who are gay only have rights and protection under the law in Israel.

I have hinted at religious freedom and its denial in all Muslim states. The Israeli position has been set out thus:

“*Every person in Israel enjoys freedom of conscience, of belief, of religion, and of worship. This freedom is guaranteed to every person in every enlightened, democratic regime, and therefore it is guaranteed to
every person in Israel. It is one of the fundamental principles upon which the State of Israel is based… This freedom is partly based on Article 83 of the Palestine Order in Council of 1922, and partly it is one
of those fundamental rights that “are not written in the book” but derive directly from the nature of out state as a peace-loving, democratic state’… On the basis of the rules – and in accordance with the
Declaration of Independence – every law and every power will be interpreted as recognizing freedom of conscience, of belief, of religion, and of worship.*”

I find it remiss of you, as someone endowed with considerable intellect, to have been so grossly misled about the reality of life in Israel. Your statement goes beyond the limits of reasonable and fair discourse. I can only consider you to have been misled by unprincipled persons who wish to disseminate falsehoods about Israel for base motives. In the face of the facts I have given and your freedom to board a plane to Israel in order to see all of this for yourself, I have to ask you to apologize to the citizens of a moral, ethical and democratic people, both Jews and Arabs, who have endured almost daily attacks from enemies determined to wipe them from the face of the planet. That Jewish Israelis have had the patience and moral strength to hold out the hand of friendship to so many Arab citizens while experiencing suicide attacks and rocket fire from their brethren across the border should inspire you to think again. As a university teacher you have a responsibility to dissociate yourself from such a totally explicit lie as the one you have uttered. Please reassure me that you understand the points I have tried to make.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin

25 Comments

  • 100% support the content of the letter; both from personal experience and an acquired knowledge if the facts & daily life in Israel. Shame on anyone professing a boycott.
    Israel is an intellectual and moral oasis in the Arab Desert Spring.

  • Kudos to Dr M, whose new book is just out: “Dear Gary – why you’re wrong about Israel” Quite ironic that he, a non-Jew, is so supportive of Israel while Dr Levitt, a Jew, shows up on blogs saying “Zionism is a racist political ideology”.

  • Dr. Jane S. Gabin

    Brilliant and articulate. I’d love to hear a follow-up if any response comes.
    Alas, hateful rhetoric and lies are what seem to get the most attention. Is the general public that gullible that it more easily swallows anti-Israel lies and than pro-Israel truth?

  • My God thank you for such a well written article of the heart of these Israelis and all they endure to ensure peace when the whole world King David lamented is for WAR…Let the Facts rule. Mr. Stephen Hawkins is a genius of a none of a kind of what this man’s mind is able to conceive on the Cosmic reality of astronomical knowledge–he is a genius., He Is A Wrong Genius, but he is great and greatly wrong on belief of an existence that goes beyond even what his mind can understand of a Universe and Universes with even possible WORLD’S and all without their being a God orchestrating this heavenly scheme of things is absurdity! With his view on Israel very misguided & mislead with quite bias where it boils over in a big cauldron stirring throughout this world. It is always a good thing to set the record straight it is what knowledge is invented for to see it clear, and as Michael said “lies run sprints, Truth runs Marathons” God rest his poetic Soul…Peace to our World!

  • Beautifully said. Thank you.

  • Kris Kristian

    I think the big problem that Israel has, is the Jew hating Archbishop Tutu, who has spread the BDS campaign all over the world.
    He is trying to destroy the one country in the Middle East, where his own Christians have full freedom, unlike those living (living???) in Islamic countries.
    How many Chrsitians are being murdered by the “religion of peace”?
    All religious building are protected by law.
    But, when Jordan occupied the West Bank, they destroyed 56 synagogues, closed the door to Jewish worship at the Western Wall.

    Unfortunately, in 1967, when Israel captured east Jerusalem, to re united what G-D gave the Jewws, (one undevided holy city,) General Dayan, in his stupidity told the WAKF that the Muslims can have full control of the Temple Mount.

    Tutu had the nerve to tell artists not to visit the “apartheid Israel”
    He tried to stop the Cape Town Opera company, which consisted of Black artists, not to visit the “apartheid state”. They told him in a very polite way to mind his own business
    They went to perform Porgy & Bess in Tel Aviv.
    They came back with huge praise for Israel, and found no apartheid there.
    But the Russel Tribunal, with Tutu and that woman who has a criminal record, Winnie Mandele, called Israel a racist, apartheid state.
    Time for the Christian world to wake up and give Israel your 100% suport.
    This may stop the (as Newt Gingrig said Invented people) from carrying out their murderous attacks on Israelis\
    It may also pave the way to peace.

  • What should be questioned is a university system that produces such useful idiots, unable to apparently think for themselves outside of their own very narrow area of knowledge. This is a failure of our education system.

  • Shareef Abdul-Kareem

    One of the saddest aspects of Islam (and there are quite a few)is its intolerance of the beliefs of others and the unwillingness to have anything good to say about non- Muslims. What manner of religion is this that professes to be inspired by the Divine One, yet manifest such absolute hatred towards others?

    • Barry Leonard Werner

      Shareef, why don’t the Muslims who oppose this misuse of their religion raise a louder voice to defend the dignity of their religion?

  • Heidegger, Hawking and Gertrude Stein: no difference.

  • Captain Art Jones

    Thank you Sir and all of you

  • Dr. McEoin has written another brilliant piece, much like his riposte to the Edinburgh University Student Association when it voted to boycott (BDS campaign) Israel in 2011(and can be read here: http://archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.com/2011/09/non-jewish-scottish-professor-responds.html )

  • Levitt and Hawking have soiled themselves irreparably and fortunately, publicly.

    ‘Nuff said.

  • It will be interesting if Levitt attempts a reply.

    • He most likely not reply. The man is of the mind that his intellect is so superior that it would be beneath him to been read our opinions. Yes, he is brilliant but he llives in his own world of superiority and cannot get out.

  • Julian Tepper

    Hear, hear. Bravo. Eminently well said.

    Thank you.

    Julian Tepper
    Placitas, NM

  • The Professor has spoken. It’s great to hear such objective views from people who have actually experienced life in the region. Thank you Professor for dispelling some untruths about things.

  • Well written and a breath of freash air.

  • Excellent article that really puts the issue in perspective.

  • Alexander van der Meer

    Well said!
    Fortunately, Einstein was the better scientist.

  • Joel Sidney

    Perhaps all the chemistry work Dr Levitt has done he’s let the drugs go to his head?.

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