British cosmologist Stephen Hawking has pulled out of an Israeli conference, joining an academic boycott of Israel to protest against its occupation of Palestinian lands, Cambridge University said on Wednesday.
The wheelchair-bound Hawking, who has won international recognition for his work on black holes, had been due to speak at a prestigious meeting in June organized by Israeli President Shimon Peres that draws hundreds of leading world figures.
However, his name was quietly dropped from the list of participants earlier this week, giving a major boost to supporters of pro-Palestinian groups that want to isolate Israel on the international stage over the continued occupation.
“This is 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 British Committee for the Universities of Palestine said on its website.
Cambridge University, where Hawking works, confirmed that the statement had been approved by the professor. Hawking did not issue any statement in his own name and the organizers of the conference, which this year celebrates Peres’s 90th birthday, did not have an immediate comment.
By snubbing the annual president’s conference, which is due to be addressed by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Hawking has become one of the prominent scientists to join the boycott movement.
Numerous figures from the world of art and entertainment have also refused to perform in Israel in recent years as part of an effort to promote the Palestinian cause, including British singer Elvis Costello and U.S. indie rock band the Pixies.
Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2010 over the issue of continued Jewish settlement building on land seized in the 1967 war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in May, said the root of the conflict with the Palestinians was not about territory but about their refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish state.