Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Stephen Hawking boycotts Israeli conference over treatment of Palestinians

The University of Cambridge releases a statement indicating that Hawking had told the Israelis last week he would not be attending 'based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott'.

LONDON // The British physicist Stephen Hawking has dropped plans to attend a major international conference in Israel in June because of a Palestinian call to boycott contacts with Israeli academics.

The University of Cambridge released a statement yesterday indicating that Hawking had told the Israelis last week he would not be attending "based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott".

University officials said earlier in the day they had "previously understood" that the decision was based solely on health concerns – he is 71 and has severe disabilities – but had now been told otherwise by Hawking's office.

The decision means that one of the world's most famous scientists has joined a boycott organised to protest against Israel's treatment of Palestinians. He is one of the most prominent figures to endorse the strategy, designed to bring pressure on the Israeli government.

The scientist had earlier agreed to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference, hosted by President Shimon Peres, in late June, but has now changed his mind. The theme of the meeting is "Facing Tomorrow 2013".

The Israeli Presidential Conference, now in its fifth year, brings together statesmen and experts to discuss ways to address the world's problems.

Hawking's endorsement of the boycott prompted an angry response from organisers. Conference chairman Israel Maimon said Hawking's decision was "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," Mr Maimon said, calling the imposition of a boycott incompatible with open, democratic dialogue.

He noted that former world leaders including Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev and Tony Blair plan to attend the three-day meeting that begins on June 18.

The boycott campaign is led by Palestinians, Israeli leftists and other supporters who oppose Israel's policies toward the Palestinians and are attuned to the power of celebrity in this age.

It has had some success, deterring a string of famous entertainers from performing. Elvis Costello and the Pixies cancelled concerts, as well as the British dance band Klaxon and the Gorillaz Sound System.

Israel has also faced occasional boycotts of its academics, unions and in some cases commercial products.

Hawking's decision was hailed by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine as support for its goal of severing academics' connections with Israel. "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 said on its website.

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National