World-renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking’s has withdrawn from the Israeli Presidential Conference next month in support of an academic boycott of Israel, according to a statement from the University of Cambridge.
Hawking, who teaches at the university, was scheduled to attend the June 18-20 conference, but according to a university spokesperson, he sent a letter to Israeli President Shimon Peres on May 3 withdrawing “based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott.”
Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported May 8 that Hawking had told Peres he was withdrawing.
The university initially denied that Hawking supported the boycott movement and said his withdrawal was due to health concerns, but a spokesperson later confirmed in an email to The CJN that those previous statements were based on a misunderstanding.
The conference, which is in its fifth year, gathers world leaders and intellectuals for public discussions on a variety of subjects. Some 5,000 people from around the world, including executives of major global technology companies, academics, Nobel laureates, artists and past and present heads of state, have confirmed their attendance for this year.
The Jerusalem conference will feature speakers such as former British prime minister Tony Blair and former U.S. president Bill Clinton.
Conference chair Israel Maimon criticized Hawking’s decision.
“The academic boycott against Israel is in our view outrageous and improper, certainly for someone for whom the spirit of liberty lies at the basis of his human and academic mission,” Maimon said. “Israel is a democracy in which all individuals are free to express their opinions, whatever they may be. The imposition of a boycott is incompatible with open, democratic dialogue.”
Hawking, head of the practical mathematics and physics department at Cambridge University, last visited Israel in 2006 at the invitation of the British Embassy. He visited Israel three times prior to that as well, according to the Guardian.
With files from JTA.