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Physicist Hawking boycotts presidential conference in Israel


14:51, May 09, 2013

JERUSALEM, May 8 (Xinhua) -- The world renowned physicist Professor Stephen Hawking canceled his participation in a major conference in Israel, stating his support for academic boycott against Israel as a protest at Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

Organizers of the Israeli conference confirmed to Xinhua that Hawking has pulled out of the conference.

Hawking, 71, a prominent theoretical physicist at the University of Cambridge, England, accepted the invitation of the fifth annual presidential conference named Facing Tomorrow, which will take place in Jerusalem in June.

But soon after his participation was announced, he has been bombarded with messages of boycott activists from around the world who asked him to turn down the invitation, according to the Guardian report.

Last week Hawking wrote a short letter to President Peres, saying he will not attend the conference, the Guardian reported Wednesday.

A statement published on the website of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking's approval said it was "his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there."

Israeli Presidential Conference chairman Israel Maimon responded to Hawking's announcement saying that his decision was " unjustifiable and wrong."

"The academic boycott against Israel is outrageous and improper, certainly for someone for whom the spirit of liberty lies at the basis of his human and academic mission," Maimon said, adding that "The imposition of a boycott is incompatible with open, democratic dialogue."

Maimon also noted that this year's conference will feature international leaders such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who will receive the President's award from President Shimon Peres, former President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev, former British PM Tony Blair, Prince Albert of Monaco, Nobel laureates and artists.

Spokesman of Israeli Minister of Science, Technology and Space, Ya'akov Peri, refused to comment for Xinhua, saying Hawking's decision "does not worth a comment."

On the other hand of the political spectrum, Tali Shapiro, an activist with Boycott From Within, an Israeli group supporting the Palestinian-led campaign for boycott and international sanctions against Israel, welcomed Hawking's support of the boycott.

The so called campaign for Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions against Israel was initiated by the Palestinian civil society in 2005, as a protest at Israel's policy in the Palestinian territories.

In April, the Teachers' Union of Ireland became the first academic union in Europe to endorse the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel.

In recent years, many artists and academics had turned down invitations to come to Israel, among them Roger Waters, Anny Lennox and Noam Chomsky.

Hawking is the most senior and famous scientist who joined the boycott so far.

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