The chairman of a Jerusalem academic conference hosted by President Shimon Peres on Wednesday decried world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking's decision to boycott the 2013 confab as "ourageous" and "incompatible with open, democratic dialogue."
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Hawking's decision to skip the Israeli Presidential Conference in protest of Israel's treatment of Palestinians was reported Tuesday by the British daily The Guardian .
Presidential Conference Chairman Israel Maimon called Hawking’s decision unjustifiable and wrong, 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."
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.
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 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.
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.