There is a furore about Professor Hawking’s boycott of an Israeli conference. Whatever his motivation may be and whatever criticism may be levelled at him it is important to note that his stance on the matter is not relevant to the justice of the cause for Israel and Zionism. It is always helpful to any cause or petition if a prominent name or title denoting importance is enlisted. Letters to the editor from panels of the highly educated academics and intellectuals may add gravity to the cause in question but they do not, in themselves, improve the veracity of the argument put forward in the letter. If in tomorrow’s Times an open letter appeared signed by a host of the post doctoral great and good lending support to the thesis that the world is flat the world would not become any flatter than it actually is. Some would be tempted to give the matter some weight on the basis of who signed the letter, but it is highly unlikely that Nasa would re-evaluate its calculations before sending its next mission into space.
This scenario may seem fanciful. However many intellectuals and clever people support causes that are as just as belief in a flat earth.
When a leading intellectual is used to support a political or other cause we should pause. We must separate the gravitas he or she lends to the cause from the rightness of that support. The temptation for many is to accept the justice of that cause because it has a supporter of such intellectual stature that the cause must be correct. Separate the celebrity from the argument and from the title. The fact that some good looking celebrity uses a product may help market the product, but it does not enhance the product’s performance.
The anti-Zionist Israel bashing movement has many prominent and clever people in its ranks. Some are better informed than others. The mere fact that someone has intellect, education, knowledge or awareness does not make them right. Clever is not the same as good. The Torah asks that we be good. No distinctions appear to be made requiring a greater degree of good from the more intelligent, or exempting the less clever from striving for righteousness. In the Passover Haggadah we encounter a comparison between two opposite sons. The counterpoint to the wise son is the wicked son. No less a figure than the Maharal of Prague questions this. He points out that the opposite of the wise son ought to be the stupid son, not the wicked son. These two sons are intellectual equals. The level of IQ makes no difference to their moral qualities. The distinction is that proper focus of the intellect, when it is orientated towards truth, leads to wisdom, while the opposite focus towards falsehood leads to evil.
Literature and cinema are filled with examples of evil genius. A Bond villain has to be a sophisticated but twisted genius with a technological Behemoth at his disposal. 007 is not the right guy to take on Godzilla. No one has any trouble recognising the bad guy in fiction. In some hidden corner of the world he has amassed weapons of mass destruction, teams of mercenary and devoted soldiers, augmented by the best and brightest scientists that no one in the rest of the world misses. It takes a good brain to be able to go undetected in building a hidden metropolis of universal homicide. The downfall of these villains is always a flaw that a savvy good guy like Bond can exploit.
We recognise this character in fiction, but we find it harder to recognise him in reality. Academics who jump on the bandwagon of Israel bashing are not Bond villains. Nor are many of them malevolent hate mongers. Despite their scientific or academic prowess they often blindly accept the vicious slander and rhetoric directed at Israel. They seem unable or unwilling to recognise the numerous inconsistencies, double standards, hypocrisy and vitriol of the anti-Israel movement. While their celebrity lends apparent legitimacy or justice to the cause they contribute nothing to the reality.
A simple individual who views the situation objectively without vested interests or prejudice will see the truth readily. History has seen millions of great minds that have all clung to untenable and ridiculous ideas. There is a great distinction between possessing intelligence and using it.
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