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On 8 May Professor Stephen Hawking announced that he will boycott the Israeli Presidential Conference he was due to attend in June. His support for the academic boycott is aimed at protesting the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Hawking sent a letter to the Conference organisers stating his withdrawal, which read: “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.”
Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has welcomed Hawking’s decision, saying: “We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”
Samia El-Botmeh, Director of the Center for Development Studies here at Birzeit University, was one of the academics involved in encouraging Hawking to boycott the Conference. In response to his decision, she said “I think it’s wonderful that he has acted on moral grounds. That’s very ethical and very important for us as Palestinians to know and understand that there are principled colleagues in the world who are willing to take a stand in solidarity with an occupied people.”
The illegal Israeli occupation denies Palestinians the right to education in a number of ways. Some of the obstacles faced include: restrictions on movement; the unlawful detention of students in Israeli jails without access to education; a lack of control over their own curriculum; and an inability to attract international academics due to visa restrictions. The Right to Education Campaign supports Hawking’s decision and calls on all academics who support human rights to join the academic boycott of Israel.