Stephen Hawking and a Black Hole of Confusion

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Today’s Top Stories

1. Fact-checking fail of the day: The Commentator reports that Professor Stephen Hawking canceled his appearance at a conference organized by Shimon Peres for medical reasons. A lot of papers picked up on an article first reported by The Guardian that Hawking backed out over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

However, a Cambridge university spokesperson has confirmed to The Commentator that there was a “misunderstanding” this past weekend, and that Prof. Hawking had pulled out of the conference for medical reasons. A University spokesman said: “Professor Hawking will not be attending the conference in Israel in June for health reasons – his doctors have advised against him flying.”

When pressed, the spokesperson confirmed that the BRICUP organisation had assumed Hawking’s position on the matter, and that it was fundamentally untrue.

The Associated Press updated developments, but in a way that’ll leave Israel-activists feeling a little prickly.

UPDATE: Tim Holt,  the acting director of communications at Cambridge (and Hawking’s spokesperson) released a statement confirming that The Guardian was right. The professor is indeed boycotting Israel irrespective of whatever his doctor’s advice was:

We have now received confirmation from Professor Hawking’s office that a letter was sent on Friday to the Israeli President’s office regarding his decision not to attend the Presidential Conference, based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott.

We had understood previously that his decision was based purely on health grounds having been advised by doctors not to fly.

BRICUP also updated its statement.  And Matthew Kalman, who originally broke the story tweeted this.

Matthew Kalman

I don’t think this story’s over just yet, so stay tuned.

2. The Arabs often say, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” What to make of these AP and Haaretz reports?

Associated Press


3. Assad has agents in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp; they’re settling scores and causing other kinds of problems. Now Lebanon writes:

Yet refugees also told NOW of another source of the unrest – the infiltration of Syrian regime mukhabarrat [secret police], sent into the camp to keep tabs on Free Syrian Army (FSA) opponents, disrupt Jordanian efforts to maintain security, and foment disorder in general.

“The mukhabarrat have bases here in the camp,” said Ahmad, a refugee from Daraa in his mid-twenties. “Mostly they just collect information, but sometimes they attack people. There was an FSA general living in the camp, for example, who they assassinated.” They are also believed to have started some, though not all, of the tent fires that have claimed a handful of lives.

4. SUCCESS: BBC Corrects Syrian Propaganda Headline: “The headline of this report has been amended to make clear that the claim that Israeli air strikes had been co-ordinated with the rebels was made by Syrian officials.”

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5. How Your Tax Money Funds Media Groupthink: What’s the most-read newspaper among BBC staffers, and why does it matter?

6. Jerualem: The Media Myth of Two Cities: The history of Jews in Jerusalem didn’t begin in 1967; why Big Media did create a new pronoun called “Arab East Jerusalem?”

Israel and the Palestinians

The Times of Israel published its full Q&A with Mayor Nir Barkat.

A Knesset committee approved legislation that would make it easier for a person or group to be sued for slandering the IDF. Haaretz reports that this will close a legal loophole:

According to the current law, libel of a public body – and not a private entity – does not constitute the pretense for a civil action suit or a criminal charge that draws an indictment.

This loophole was exposed by the failure of legal efforts against Mohammed Bakri, the director of Jenin, Jenin. The film gave the impression that the IDF carried out a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp during the 2002 Operation Defense Shield. A group of soldiers sued Bakri for slander; the judge ruled that the film slandered the IDF in general, but not the individual soldiers who brought the suit.

Time assesses China’s foray into the peace process.

On the next page

  • Syria’s Internet goes completely offline.
  •  Rebels abduct four UN peacekeepers near Israeli border.
  • Did Prisoner X wreck mission to retrieve bodies of MIAs?

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