Even if Hawking is Wrong, You Won’t Beat Him in a Debate

Do we have to respond to everything?

As tempting as talking back to Hawking and his decision to join an academic boycott of Israel is, and maybe as appropriate as this particular instance of response will be, I’m a little disturbed at how much of a given everyone assumes to to be that we need to respond to every boycott by every big name. A lot of PR responses I’ve seen have been detrimental because the draw attention to issues that would have otherwise fallen out of the public sphere.

Facebook is home to way too many ‘counter-hasbara’ efforts. I see pictures that are supposedly being published by global media outlets that crop out context and demonize IDF soldiers (that I’ve never seen before those ‘explanatory’ posts), no-names taking jabs at heavy hitters (and not helping out their cause in the process), and some really unrefined explanations for Israeli policy that really do nothing to address why people like Stephen Hawking are jumping ship.

Hawking is a big fish, so a big reaction is probably inevitable if not warranted, but this is also an important opportunity to remind anyone who likes to devote spare time to writing in defense of Israel that you have to be extremely careful with what you say. You are taking on a titan. IMO, only the seasoned and extremely well-versed should even dare to challenge Hawking directly (even if you have no hope of a direct response).

As for the rest of you who think you aren’t the best candidates to issue a well-worded and cohesive political, cultural and technological response to Hawking, I’d recommend focusing on those ’50 or so’ other Nobel winners that Shimon Peres was bragging about earlier. Don’t even mention Hawking. Just mention others. A positive response, reactionary as it is, will have a higher chance of utilizing your time optimally than any direct attack on Hawking’s position. Let the big guys deal with it.

If you are a big guy, my advice still stands. Be careful what you say and don’t invite more responses that will exhaust your ability to defend yourself against people like Stephen Hawking. This is not Chomsky. This is not someone who takes his words lightly (he didn’t even issue a press release on this; others have done the talking for him). Don’t invite him to articulate his position. It will be hopeless without the commitment of like-minded intellectual titans of similar mental caliber to take on this very delicate public debate. If you are not Stanley Fischer, tread lightly.

Better yet, if you are not Robert Aumann, you should stay clear of it. Aumann has published his nothing-less-than-educated position on negotiations with Arab states that serve as the foundation for an adequate response to Hawking, but I cannot pretend to paraphrase what Aumann has stated in the past about how game theory, in his calculation of things, demonstrates the ill-advisability of making peace deals in their current context:

…one should consider a one-time situation completely differently from a situation that repeats itself again and again, for in games that repeat over time, a strategic balance that is neutral paradoxically causes a cooperation between the opposing sides. Such cooperation occurs when the parties understand that the game repeats itself many times, therefore they must consider what will be the impact of their present moves on future games, when the fear of future loss serves as a balancing factor.

Read his entire analysis. It’s on par with the caliber you need to be in order to fight in this weight class.

Just to remind you of how serious his verbiage is, I’m providing his epic rap victory over Albert Einstein.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.