ISRAELIS have reacted angrily to news that professor Stephen Hawking is intellectually boycotting the country, with some suggesting that he stop using Intel technology as well.
Hawking was scheduled to speak at a conference hosted in Jerusalem by Israeli president Shimon Peres, but he changed his mind, according to a statement from its organisers.
"We understand that professor Stephen Hawking has declined his invitation to attend the Israeli presidential conference Facing Tomorrow 2013, due to take place in Jerusalem on 18-20 June," said a statement released by the British Community for the Universities of Palestine, Bricup.
"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."
At the BBC the conference people reportedly are furious at the news. "This decision is outrageous and wrong," said Israel Maimon, chairman of the Israeli presidential conference.
"The use of an academic boycott against Israel is outrageous and improper, particularly for those to whom the spirit of liberty is the basis of the human and academic mission. Israel is a democracy in which everyone can express their opinion, whatever it may be. A boycott decision is incompatible with open democratic discourse."
This pales compared to the views of Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, director of the Shurat Hadin Israel Law Center. The human rights attorney said that Hawking should take his boycott further, and stop using Intel products.
"Hawking's decision to join the boycott of Israel is quite hypocritical for an individual who prides himself on his own intellectual accomplishment. His whole computer based communication system runs on a chip designed by Israel's Intel team. I suggest that if he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet," she said.
"He calls [the boycott] an independent decision based on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts here. I propose he first seek the advice of Intel engineers working here. He seems to have no understanding of this world."
The Shurat Hadin group said that since 1997 Hawking has been using a computer system "sponsored and provided by Intel".
There are suggestions that Hawking has withdrawn for health reasons, and not for the reason given by the event organisers.
An update added to Bricup's earlier statement does not help to clarify the issue, but does show some promise.
"The statement above has been issued with the specific endorsement of professor Hawking's office. His staff sent us the following message on 7 May[:] ‘Just spoken to Tim [Tim Holt, acting director of communications for Cambridge University] and we are both in agreement with the quote - and as you say - sensible to get this out rather than a lot of differing opinions'," it said.
"We have seen the letter that professor Hawking sent to the Jerusalem organisers giving his clear reasons for not attending and are seeking his permission to release the letter but will not do so until we have his approval. We regret the misinformation being circulated about this matter."
Bricup accused Cambridge University of trying to avoid controversy by misrepresenting Hawking's reason for withdrawing.
"We have now received confirmation from professor Hawking’s office that a letter was sent on Friday to the Israeli president’s office regarding his decision not to attend the Presidential Conference, based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott," the university said in a post late Thursday.
"We had understood previously that his decision was based purely on health grounds having been advised by doctors not to fly."
Hawking's letter to the conference organisers has now been published on the Bricup website and confirms what the group was saying all along.
"I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank. However, I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster." µ
Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ