'Hawking pulls out of Israeli event in protest'

'Guardian' reports physicist cancels appearance at President's Conference; conference head calls boycott "outrageous."

May 8, 2013 11:24
2 minute read.
Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking 370. (photo credit: Sheryl Nadler/Reuters)


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British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, 71, pulled out of the President's Conference under the auspices of President Shimon Peres, as a protest of Israel's treatment to the Palestinians, the Guardian reported Tuesday overnight.

The fifth President's Conference, which features the tagline "Facing Tomorrow," is set to take place in Israel next month and feature worldwide top leaders and thinkers in a wide variety of fields.

Hawking, that chose not to announce his decision to pull out of the conference publicly, wrote a letter to Peres telling the president he decided "to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there," the Guardian reported.

Hawking's participation in the conference was announced in early April, and since then he has received messages from the UK and abroad urging him to cancel his appearance as an act of support for the academic boycott that is a part of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

The Guardian reports Hawking decided to heed the advice of his Palestinian colleagues who agreed he should not attend the Jerusalem event.

Hawking, the head of the Practical Mathematics and Physics Department of Cambridge University, suffers from ALS disease, which has shut down movement in his entire body but not affected his mental fitness.

Hawking’s last visit to Israel took place in 2006, when he was invited by the British Embassy to tour Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as meet with local scientists and academics. At the time, he said he was "looking forward to coming out to Israel and the Palestinian territories and excited about meeting both Israeli and Palestinian scientists."

Since then, Hawking changed his attitude towards Israel, denouncing the 2009 Operation Cast Lead, and saying Israel's reaction to the rocket fire from Gaza was "out of proportions."

President's Conference chairman Israel Maimon on Wednesday responded to Hawking's decision to boycott the June event, saying "the use of an academic boycott on Israel is outrageous and unwarranted."

Maimon said that Hawking's decision was all the more unacceptable in light of the fact that the "spirit of freedom" was the basis of his academic and human endeavors.

"Israel is a democracy in which everyone can voice their opinions, whatever they may be. Boycotting is not compatible with open democratic dialogue," he added.

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