WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — British physicist Stephen Hawking will not attend an upcoming international conference in Israel to show solidarity with Palestinians calling for a boycott of the event with Israeli academics.
The 71-year-old Hawking, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, previously said he would attend the fifth annual Presidential Conference hosted by President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem in June.
“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,” a University of Cambridge spokesperson told The Times of Israel. “We had understood previously that his decision was based purely on health grounds having been advised by doctors not to fly.”
Conference Chairman Israel Maimon called Hawking’s decision “unjustifiable and wrong.”
“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 told The Associated Press.
Hawking becomes the most celebrated scientist to join a boycott organized to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Elvis Costello and the Pixies have canceled concerts in Israel to show support, among others.
The British Committee for the Universities of Palestine backed Hawking’s decision to boycott.
“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 committee stated on its website.
Former President Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Mikhail Gorbachev are expected to attend.
President Barack Obama presented Hawking with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a White House ceremony in 2009.
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