University Claims Hawking Canceled Israeli Conference Due to Health, Not Boycott

The Guardian reported earlier Wednesday that the renowned physicist had snubbed Peres' academic conference to protest Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

World-renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking canceled his participation in an Israeli academic conference next month due to health and personal reasons and not as a boycott of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, the University of Cambridge said on Wednesday.

The university's statement came after The Guardian reported that Hawking decided to skip the Israeli Presidential Conference, hosted by President Shimon Peres, as a form of boycott.

Presidential Conference Chairman Israel Maimon called Hawking’s decision unjustifiable and wrong, "outrageous" and "incompatible with open, democratic dialogue, adding: "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."

According the Guardian, Hawking, 71, told Peres that he would not participate in the annual "Facing Tomorrow" conference in June after consultation with his Palestinian colleagues, and "based on his knowledge of Palestine."

But Tim Holt, media director at the University of Cambridge spokesman, said Hawking's decision was based strictly on health concerns.

"For health reasons, his doctors said he should not be flying at the moment so he's decided not to attend," said Holt. "He is 71-years-old. He's fine, but he has to be sensible about what he can do."

A University of Cambridge statement released earlier Wednesday cited "personal reasons" for his decision. Hawking, who has ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, cannot move his body and uses a wheelchair. He communicates through a computerized voice system.

The conference, which is in its fifth year, gathers world leaders and intellectuals for public discussions on a variety of subjects.

Hawking last visited Israel in 2006 at the invitation of the British Embassy.

The Guardian reported that although Hawking initially announced his participation in the conference, he received a deluge of appeals to refrain from attending in the last four weeks.  

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 did not have an immediate comment.

The annual president's conference is due to be addressed by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.