Stephen Hawking Boycott of Israeli Conference ‘Outrageous,’ Organizers Say
World-renowned theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking has joined the academic boycott of Israel and will not be attending the fifth annual Presidential Conference in Jerusalem in June, The Guardian reported Wednesday. Hawking’s intention to boycott Israel was initially denied but subsequently confirmed by the University of Cambridge, where Hawking is the emeritus Lucasian professor of mathematics.
While Hawking had not publicly announced his decision, The Guardian cited a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) “with Hawking’s approval” that described the move as 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.”
A spokesperson from the University of Cambridge initially responded to the report in The Guardian by saying Hawking “will not be attending the conference in Israel in June for health reasons—his doctors have advised against him flying,” according to The Commentator. Hawking has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. BRICUP in its published statement “assumed” Hawking’s position on the academic boycott of Israel, and that position was “fundamentally untrue,” the university spokesperson had said.
The Algemeiner, however, later reported that Hawking did in fact intend to stage an Israel boycott through his decision to back out of the Presidential Conference.
“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 spokesman told The Algemeiner.
“We had understood previously that his decision was based purely on health grounds, having been advised by doctors not to fly,” the spokesman said.
Israeli Presidential Conference Steering Committee Chairman Israel Maimon on Wednesday slammed what he called Hawking’s “outrageous, wrongful decision.”
“The academic boycott of Israel is outrageous, especially by someone who preaches freedom of thought,” Maimon said, according to Israel Hayom. “Israel is a democracy, where anyone can state his case, whatever it may be. Imposing a boycott goes against the principles of holding an open and democratic discourse.”
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev and Prince Albert of Monaco will be attending the Presidential Conference, in addition to famed singer Barbra Streisand and other leading performers.
Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel education group StandWithUs, told JNS.org, “It’s too bad that physicist Stephen Hawking only has room in his heart for the one side in an ongoing conflict, and is unable to recognize the suffering of Israeli civilians who are bombarded by acts of terrorism by Palestinian groups like Hamas. It is shocking that such an intelligent person didn’t take the time to learn more about the aspirations of the BDS movement; namely, the elimination of the state of Israel. Memo to Stephen Hawking: boycotting one side in an on-going conflict will never lead to peace.”
The Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center noted that Hawking, who communicates through a computerized voice system, is boycotting Israel despite the fact that his computerized system “runs on a chip designed by Israel’s Intel team.”
“I suggest that if [Hawking] truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 [chip] from his tablet,” Shurat HaDin Director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said in a statement. Hawking’s voice system runs on a tablet computer that uses the Intel chip mentioned by Shurat HaDin to operate.
“The first mobile processor that used the Israeli-designed chip was codenamed ‘Merom,'” Shurat HaDin explained. “Merom is the Hebrew word for a higher plane of existence or a level of heaven, and was a name chosen by the team in Haifa, Israel.”
The Wolf Foundation, which in 1988 awarded Hawking the Wolf Prize in physics, said in a statement, “We were sad to learn that someone of Professor Hawking’s standing chose to capitulate to irrelevant pressures and will refrain from visiting Israel.”