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Stephen Hawking joins academic boycott of Israel

British cosmologist Stephen Hawking has pulled out of an Israeli conference, joining an academic boycott of Israel to protest against its occupation of Palestinian lands, Cambridge University said on Wednesday. Hawking, who has won international recognition for his work on black holes, had been due to speak at a prestigious meeting in June organised by Israeli President Shimon Peres that draws hundreds of leading world figures. However, his name was quietly dropped from the list of participants earlier this week, giving a major boost to supporters of pro-Palestinian groups that want to isolate Israel on the international stage over the continued occupation. "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 British Committee for the Universities of Palestine said on its website.
 
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 organisers 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.
 
Hawking's decision marks another victory in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli academic institutions.
 
In April the Teachers' Union of Ireland became the first lecturers' association in Europe to call for an academic boycott of Israel, and in the United States members of the Association for Asian American Studies voted to support a boycott, the first national academic group to do so, Guardian reported.
 
In the four weeks since Hawking's participation in the Jerusalem event was announced, he has been bombarded with messages from Britain and abroad as part of an intense campaign by boycott supporters trying to persuade him to change his mind. In the end, Hawking told friends, he decided to follow the advice of Palestinian colleagues who unanimously agreed that he should not attend.
 
In 2009, Hawking denounced Israel's three-week attack on Gaza, telling Riz Khan on Al-Jazeera that Israel's response to rocket fire from Gaza was "plain out of proportion … The situation is like that of South Africa before 1990 and cannot continue."

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