Hawking was responding to an incongruity: He had been invited to attend an Israeli conference of scientific, economic and political world leaders under the lofty title: "The Human Factor in Shaping Tomorrow."
Many usual political suspects are expected to speak at the conference, including noted Israeli friends
Also listed as speakers are Stuart Eizenstat, Larry Summers and David Axelrod. George W. Bush was a speaker for the 2008 inaugural conference.
As a matter of conscience, Hawking will not be there.
What makes this conference such an incongruous event is that it will hold its "Shaping Tomorrow" sessions in close proximity to what is essentially a prison wall built to separate an occupied, entrapped Palestinian population from the rest of the world.
Is this the future Israel would have us shape? Prison walls enforcing ethnic cleansing?
In his conference withdrawal statement Hawking (above) explained his boycott decision:
"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
settlementbut 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."
The term "boycott" is part of the Palestinian civil society's Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) non-violent campaign, a grassroots movement launched in 2005 to non-violently bring an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian
Israel is holding its fifth conference in close proximity to the Israeli-built prison wall that enforces that occupation.
Stephen Hawking has not been known for political activism. His story unfolded in a different arena. It is a story of his enormous personal courage and significant achievement as a physicist and cosmologist.
Hawking, who tells his personal story in "Living With ALS," has to be the most high-profile invitee yet to boycott an Israeli Presidential conference, an event which in the past has attracted little media attention. Hawking has changed that.
In her 2012 Scientific American essay , "How Has Stephen Hawking Lived to 70 with ALS?" author Katherine Harmon provides background both on Hawking and his disease:
"The famous theoretical physicist has helped to bring his ideas about black holes and quantum gravity to a broad public audience. For much of his time in the public eye, though, he has been confined to a wheelchair by a form of the motor-neuron disease
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis(ALS). And since 1985 he has had to speak through his trademark computer system-- which he operates with his cheek -- and have around-the-clock care.
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