Stephen Hawking joins academic boycott of Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The decision by British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking to support the academic boycott of Israel by backing out of a conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres was called “outrageous and improper.”

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

“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. 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,” Israel Maimon, chairman of the Israeli Presidential Conference: Facing Tomorrow 2013, said in a statement issued Wednesday.

The British newspaper The Guardian reported Wednesday that Hawking told Peres last week in a letter that he would not participate in the June conference.

Hawking did not announce his decision publicly, but the newspaper reported that a statement was published with the scientist’s approval by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine which said it was Hawking’s “independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.”

After his participation in the event was confirmed in early April, Hawking was “bombarded” with messages to change his mind by boycott supporters, according to the Guardian.

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 newspaper.

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.

Hawking, who has ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, cannot move his body and uses a wheelchair. He communicates through a computerized voice system.

Need to know? Click here to sign up for JTA’s free e-newsletters.

Click to write a letter to the editor.