British physicist Stephen Hawking has confirmed that he will not be attending the Presidential Conference in Israel because he is joining an academic boycott of the Jewish state.
The University of Cambridge released a statement late Wednesday saying 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."
Earlier, the university said that news reports saying Hawking was boycotting the conference were wrong, and that the noted physicist's decision to cancel his visit to Israel stemmed from health reasons alone.
The British newspaper Guardian first reported that Hawking cancelled his visit to Israel because he is backing the academic boycott.
The newspaper quoted a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, which described Hawking’s cancellation of the trip as "his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.”
The fifth annual Presidential Conference, called Facing Tomorrow, will be held June 18-20 and feature major international personalities. This year’s conference will celebrate President Shimon Peres's 90th birthday.
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.”