News reports claiming that Prof. Stephen Hawking had chosen to boycott the State of Israel were said to have been based on a deception or misunderstanding on Wednesday. Cambridge University's Tim Holt, Acting Director of Communications and Hawking’s spokesperson said that the noted physicist's decision to cancel his visit to Israel for the President's Conference stemmed from health reasons alone.
According to The Commentator, the story about the alleged boycott was first published by The Guardian, after it received an "erroneous" statement from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP).
The statement was supposedly issued with Prof. Hawking's approval, and said that the move 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".
However, a Cambridge university spokesperson confirmed to The Commentator Tuesday that there was, in fact, a "misunderstanding," and that Prof. Hawking had pulled out of the conference for medical reasons.
Responding to an e-mail including an open letter to Prof. Hawking, shared nearly 2000 times, a University spokesman said: "Professor Hawking will not be attending the conference in Israel in June for health reasons – his doctors have advised against him flying."
When asked for further information, the spokesperson confirmed that the BRICUP had "assumed" Hawking's position on the matter. The Commentator added that this assumption was, according to the spokesman, "fundamentally untrue," though it is not clear if the site was quoting the spokesman.
The Commentator was unable to reach BRICUP via telephone for comment.
Cambridge University later retracted its statement denying boycott claims in the statement below:
“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.”