Stephen Hawking, British cosmologist and theoretical physicist, has backed out of a speaking engagement at the June Israeli Presidential Conference in support of an academic boycott of Israel. A spokesman for the University of Cambridge said Hawking acted based on "his knowledge of Palestine.”
Hawking was criticized by Israeli organizers of the June conference, which celebrates the 90th birthday of President Shimon Peres.
Hawking, 71, is world famous for his bestselling book “A Brief History of Time.” Largely immobilized due to a motor neuron disease, he uses a computerized speech generator to talk. He was schedule to give an address at the June conference in Jerusalem, where previous speakers include Dr. Henry Kissinger, George W. Bush, and Tony Blair.
"The situation is that he's discussed it with fellow academics and has decided, for personal reasons, not to attend the conference in June," a Cambridge spokesman said.
Meanwhile Tim Holt, media director for Cambridge, said Hawking backed out of the conference strictly due to health concerns, according to The Associated Press.
A statement approved by Hawking and published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) said: "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 opposite of BRICUP, the Fair Play group campaigns against boycotting Israel. Their spokesman called Hawking’s decision a missed opportunity to talk about his feeling on Israel and Palestine. "Prof Hawking could have joined the conference and explained his views on the conflict in the region, just as many other participants have done,” the Fair Play spokesman said. "By boycotting the conference, he has thrown away this opportunity and will help nobody."
Conference organizers were unhappy with Hawking’s the 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," conference chairman Israel Maimon said in a statement.
Hawkings association with BRICUP would lead many to believe his decision is in the name of science and research.
BRICUP’s website states that the purpose of boycotting Israel is to support Palestinian academic colleagues. “The construction of the Israeli wall across and through Palestinian land in flagrant violation of the rulings of the International Court and despite international condemnation, notably from the EU, is making everyday life, to say nothing of teaching and research, ever more difficult for our Palestinian colleagues,” the website says.