THE subject of Stephen Hawking’s best-known and most important research, showing that black holes emit radiation, was based on research by Hebrew University physics professor Jacob Bekenstein.
Physicist Hawking, who died on Wednesday at the age of 76, was initially one of Israeli Bekenstein’s detractors, but he eventually embraced his groundbreaking idea.
But Hawking, the author of the best-selling A Brief History of Time, had a difficult relationship with Israel.
Five years ago, he boycotted a conference in Jerusalem honouring the-then Israeli president Shimon Peres.
He was sscheduled to attend but, after pressure from the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, changed his mind.
Hawking wrote to the conference’s organisers: “I have received a number of letters from Palestinian academics.
“They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference.”
Oxford-born Hawking, who was paralysed due to motor neurone disease, was the first scientist of his stature to embrace the anti-Israel movement.
And it was not the first time that Hawking had taken sides with Palestinians against Israel.
In a 2009 interview with Al Jazeera, he condemned the Israeli military operation in Gaza, saying: “A people under occupation will continue to resist in any way it can.
“If Israel wants peace, it will have to talk to Hamas, like Britain did with the IRA. Hamas are the democratically-elected leaders of the Palestinian people and cannot be ignored.”
Many opposed to his decision took to social media, accusing him of outright antisemitism.
The physicist was also accused of hypocrisy. Due to his debilitating condition, he used computer-controlled voice technology in order to speak — and the whole computer-based communications system ran on a chip designed by Israel’s Intel team.
Last year, Hawking urged his Facebook followers to help finance a series of lectures in physics for Palestinian graduate students in the West Bank.
He did, however, visit Israel a number of times; the last time in 2012 to receive the Wolf Prize in Physics.
Hawking was praised by former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks. He tweeted: “We shared the privilege of being Fellows of the same Cambridge College [Gonville and Caius], and he truly merited the blessing the rabbis coined on seeing a great non-Jewish scholar, thanking God for ‘giving of His wisdom to human flesh and blood’. His was a truly inspiring life.”