LONDON (AP) — Physicist Stephen Hawking has dropped plans to attend a major conference in Israel in June, prompting criticism Wednesday from Israeli officials who believe he has joined a boycott organized to protest Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
The world-famous scientist had earlier agreed to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference, hosted by President Shimon Peres, in late June, but has now changed his mind. A University of Cambridge statement released Wednesday cited "personal reasons" for his decision.
Conference chairman Israel Maimon said Hawking's decision was "unjustifiable and wrong."
"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," Maimon said, calling the imposition of a boycott incompatible with open, democratic dialogue.
He noted that former world leaders including Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev and Tony Blair plan to attend the conference.
The 71-year-old Hawking's decision was hailed by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine as support for its goal of severing academics' connections with Israel.
"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 committee said on its website.
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