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Blog

Stephen Hawking boycotts high-profile Israeli conference

By James Dacey

Stephen Hawking has decided to pull out of the fifth Israeli Presidential Conference: Facing Tomorrow 2013, which is taking place in June. The world-famous British cosmologist and science communicator was due to deliver a keynote speech at the conference in Jerusalem, which boasts other presenters including Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev. But it appears that Hawking has made a late U-turn. That is according to a statement published by the British Committee for Universities for Palestine – an organization of UK-based academics, set up in response to the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel.

We understand that Professor Stephen Hawking has declined his invitation to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference Facing Tomorrow 2013, due to take place in Jerusalem on 18–20 June. 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.

According to the British newspaper the Guardian, Hawking was “bombarded with messages from Britain and abroad” encouraging him to join an academic boycott of Israel, after it was announced four weeks ago that he would be appearing at this conference. Having considered the issues and discussed the situation with colleagues, Hawking has reached his decision to withdraw. This year’s Israeli Presidential Conference is focused on the human aspects that are shaping the world, including issues such as geopolitics, education and new media.

Hawking is not the first high-profile physicist to become embroiled in the politics of academic boycotts concerning Israel. The Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg made the headlines in 2007 when he cancelled a trip to the UK where he was due to speak at Imperial College London in honour of the Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam. In a letter at the time to the chair of the theoretical physics at Imperial republished in the Times Higher Education, Weinberg cited his perception of a widespread anti-Israel current of British opinion, especially among the intellectual establishment.

In the letter, Weinberg explained that he had also cancelled a trip to the UK in 2006 when he learned of the boycott of Israeli academics by the now-dissolved lecturers’ union NATFHE. “I know some will say that these boycotts are directed only against Israel, rather than generally against Jews. But given the history of attacks on Israel and the oppressiveness and aggressiveness of other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, boycotting Israel indicates a moral blindness for which it is hard to find any explanation other than antisemitism.”

In pulling out of the Israeli Presidential Conference, Hawking joins a list of high-profile British public figures to boycott Israel, including film director Mike Leigh and the musicians Elvis Costello and Annie Lennox.

UPDATE

Tim Holt, acting director of communications at the University of Cambridge, has sent Physics World the following statement:

“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.

“We had understood previously that his decision was based purely on health grounds having been advised by doctors not to fly.”

 

 

 

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9 comments

  1. Carl

    Good for Hawking.

    He should be commended. Israel is a thug and is punishing the Palestinian people for their leaders actions. On that basis, perhaps Hawking should boycott America as well.

  2. Kasuha

    Another sad case of victory of propaganda over reason.

    I would understand if he refused to travel for health reasons.
    I would understand if he refused to travel in fear of getting killed by a Palestinian rocket.
    But if the two above are not the concern then I don’t understand why he refuses to travel to a place where – if he has anything to criticize on the Israel – is the best place to do so. And maybe learn a bit about what really happens there.

    • Carl

      So he needs to travel to Israel to find out what is going on? Seriously?

      I wonder how Hawking calculated black hole entropy without traveling to one?

      You must be a lobbyist for the airline industry.

  3. John Duffield

    I’m with Weinberg on this. Especially since his contribution to physics is beyond doubt. Hawking is just a media-darling “celebrity physicist”.

  4. b s chandrasekhar

    Hawking’s absence from a conference dealing with “the human aspects that are shaping the world, including issues such as geopolitics, education and new media” will leave the gathering to be satified with dilettantes like Blair, Clinton, and Gorbachov, without the profound wisdom on these questions that Hawking from his vast experience could have contributed. I say, cancel the Conference!

  5. B. Cook

    A perfect example of the universal concept that great intelligence rarely results in great wisdom.

  6. The relationship between Israel and Jews appears to complicated (or simple, what amounts to the same), that any argument about Israel and anti-Semitism (whatever it means) turns out futile. I cann’t help wondering the reaction of Steven Weinberg, never=the-less.
    Rationale for modern Israel existence derives from the Jewish Bible (alias New Testament). Now I take liberty to recall a saying (magnificant one) of a scientist I esteem very much:

    “With or without religion, you would have
    good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion”.

    Steven Weinberg, 1999.

  7. Correction.

    In my previous comment an error was made. (alias New Testament) should read (alias Old Testament)

    P. G.

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