Famed physicist, Professor Stephen Hawking, is joining the academic boycott of Israel by pulling out of the annual conference held under the auspices of Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. He says it is in protest of what he described as "Israel's treatment of Palestinians".
Hawking, 71, world-renowned theoretical physicist and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had accepted an invitation to headline the fifth annual Presidential Conference, called Facing Tomorrow, June 18-20, which features major international personalities, attracts thousands of participants and this year will celebrate Peres's 90th birthday.
Hawking had last visited Israel in 2006 at the invitation of the British Embassy there. He gave lectures in both Israeli and Palestinian universities.
After the 2009 Israeli attack on Gaza in 2009, Hawking condemned Israel publicly in strong terms.
Hawking has been known to take anti-war positions in the past. In 2004, he joined an anti-Iraq war demonstration in London and addressed the demonstrators, calling the US led invasion of Iraq a 'war crime' and based on 'lies'.
Hawking suffers from a rare motor neuron disease called ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. As a result he is confined to a computer-run wheel chair.
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 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. 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.”
Israel Maimon also noted that this year’s conference will be attended by 5,000 people from around the world, among them dozens of speakers that represent the best minds from across the globe: executives of major global technology companies, academics, Nobel laureates, artists and past and present heads of state including 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, Barbra Streisand and many others.