British physicist Stephen Hawking has dropped plans to attend a major international conference in Israel in June, citing his belief that he should respect a Palestinian call to boycott contacts with Israeli academics.
The University of Cambridge released a statement Wednesday indicating that Hawking had told the Israelis last week that 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 Hawking’s 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 organized to protest 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.”
Tim Holt, acting communications director at the University of Cambridge, said early in the day that Hawking’s decision was based strictly on health concerns. Hawking suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“For health reasons, his doctors said he should not be flying at the moment so he’s decided not to attend,” said Holt. “He is 71 years old. He’s fine, but he has to be sensible about what he can do.”
The university later changed its position after consulting Hawking’s office. The change was made after Israeli officials insisted Hawking had cited the boycott when informing organizers that he would not attend.