Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Stephen Hawking denies report that Israel trip cancellation due to boycott

A University of Cambridge spokesman representing British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said his cancellation of a planned visit to Israel in June is due to health reasons, not a boycott.

The spokesman's statement came following reports that Hawking had canceled his visit to the Israeli Presidential Conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres as part of an academic boycott of the Jewish state.

A University of Cambridge statement released Wednesday cited “personal reasons” for Hawking's decision, according to The Associated Press. After the boycott allegation was reported, university spokesman Tim Holt told the media, “For health reasons, his doctors said he should not be flying at the moment, so he’s decided not to attend. He is 71 years old. He’s fine, but he has to be sensible about what he can do.”
The U.K. Guardian reported Wednesday that Hawking wrote Peres a letter last week saying he would not participate in the June conference. According to the Guardian, a statement published with the scientist's approval by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine 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."

Israel Maimon, chairman of the Israeli Presidential Conference: Facing Tomorrow 2013, expressed dismay after the report.

“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 in a statement issued Wednesday after the Guardian article appeared. "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.”

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, draws 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.

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