‘The policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster’: Stephen Hawking pulls out of conference hosted by Shimon Peres, backs academic boycott of Israel (Updated)

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StephenHawkingBirzeit
Professor Stephen Hawking visiting staff and students at Birzeit University, Palestine in 2006.
(Photo: Churchill College, Cambridge)

Update, May 8, 11:36 AM:

The pro-Israel website CiF Watch has published this statement from Tim Holt, Acting Director of Communications at Cambridge, confirming Hawking’s decision was out of support for the academic boycott:

“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.”

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has published a part of the letter Hawking sent to conference organizers:

“I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”

Update, May 8, 11:22 AM:

British Committee for the Universities for Palestine (BRICUP) has issued the following clarification of Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott Shimon Peres’s President’s Conference. The statement below reaffirms that Hawking’s decision to back the academic boycott was “based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.”

From BRICUP:

UPDATE 8 May: The statement above has been issued with the specific endorsement of Professor Hawking’s office. His staff sent us the following message on 7 May “Just spoken to Tim [Tim Holt, Acting Director of Communications for Cambridge University] and we are both in agreement with the quote – and as you say – sensible to get this out rather than a lot of differing opinions.” We have seen the letter that Professor Hawking sent to the Jerusalem organisers giving his clear reasons for not attending and are seeking his permission to release the letter but will not do so until we have his approval. We regret the misinformation being circulated about this matter.

Michael Kalman reports over Twitter that Cambridge is about to retract the statement that Hawking backed out over health concerns:

Update, May 8, 9:00 AM:

There is conflicting reporting around Hawking’s cancellation. Haaretz is reporting the University of Cambridge has said the cancellation was due to health reasons:

World-renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking canceled his participation in an Israeli academic conference next month due to health and personal reasons and not as a boycott of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the University of Cambridge said on Wednesday.

The university’s statement came after The Guardian reported that Hawking decided to skip the Israeli Presidential Conference, hosted by President Shimon Peres, as a form of boycott. . .

But Tim Holt, media director at the University of Cambridge spokesman, said Hawking’s decision was based strictly on health concerns.

“For health reasons, his doctors said he should not be flying at the moment so he’s decided not to attend,” said Holt. “He is 71-years-old. He’s fine, but he has to be sensible about what he can do.”

A University of Cambridge statement released earlier Wednesday cited “personal reasons” for his decision.

Yet, Reuters is reporting, similar to the Guardian, that Hawking’s cancellation is in fact a protest. Reuters says Cambridge confirms that this British Committee for the Universities for Palestine (BRICUP) statement was approved by Hawking:

However, his name was quietly dropped from the list of participants earlier this week, giving a major boost to supporters of pro-Palestinian groups that want to isolate Israel on the international stage over the continued occupation.

“This is his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there,” the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine said on its website.

Cambridge University, where Hawking works, confirmed that the statement had been approved by the professor. Hawking did not issue any statement in his own name.

Here is the full BRICUP statement:

We understand that Professor Stephen Hawking has declined his invitation to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference Facing Tomorrow 2013, due to take place in Jerusalem on 18-20 June. This is his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.

Original Post:

The Guardian reports:

Professor Stephen Hawking is backing the academic boycott of Israel by pulling out of a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Hawking, 71, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had accepted an invitation to headline the fifth annual president’s conference, Facing Tomorrow, in June, which features major international personalities, attracts thousands of participants and this year will celebrate Peres’s 90th birthday.

Hawking is in very poor health, but last week he wrote a brief letter to the Israeli president to say he had changed his mind. He has not announced his decision publicly, but a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking’s approval described it as “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”.

Hawking’s decision marks another victory in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli academic institutions.

The Guardian adds that Peres’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the story.

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