Perhaps the most famous living scientist is backing out of a major conference in Jerusalem over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Stephen Hawking came under pressure from an international campaign, but says he made the decision after hearing from his contacts in Palestinian academia.
Hawking, 71, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had accepted an invitation to headline the fifth annual president’s conference, Facing Tomorrow, in June, which features major international personalities, attracts thousands of participants and this year will celebrate Peres’s 90th birthday.
Hawking is in very poor health, but last week he wrote a brief letter to the Israeli president to say he had changed his mind. He has not announced his decision publicly, but a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking’s approval described it 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”.
According to the paper, Hawking has been to Israel four times previously, and after the 2008-2009 bombardment of Gaza, he compared the situation to “South Africa before 1990.”