Israel was shocked, and not a little miffed when it learned that eminent physicist Stephen Hawking had canceled his attendance at this year's "Facing Tomorrow" conference.
Facing Tomorrow is an annual academic gathering hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres, and typically draws top political, scientific, business and academic leaders from around the world.
Hawking was originally scheduled to attend the fifth annual Facing Tomorrow conference in June. But on Tuesday he reportedly contacted Peres to say he would not be participating because of Israel's alleged treatment of the Palestinians.
Hawking said he made his decision based on "consultations with Palestinian colleagues" and on his "knowledge of Palestine."
Israel Maimon, chairman of the Facing Tomorrow conference, called Hawking's boycott "outrageous and improper. ...The imposition of a boycott is incompatible with open, democratic dialogue."
Prominent Israeli academic Dr. Mordechai E. Schwarz published a tongue-in-cheek open letter to Hawking, in which he listed for the physicist a number of other countries of which he would now need to steer clear.
"As you know, Britain is still occupying and oppressing Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Gibraltar, the Malvinas and many other territories around the world. Therefore I expect you to join my call – Boycott Britain," wrote Dr. Schwarz. "Sweden is still occupying Lapland...Spain is still occupying and oppressing the Basques and Catalonia...Russia is still occupying many territories in Europe and in Asia... [and] the United States is still occupying Indian territories and other territories taken forcefully from Mexico."
There were also a number of Arab voices taking Hawking to task, such as British commentator Raheem Kassam, executive editor of The Commentator, who lamented that the scientist had "either abdicated your commitment to the scientific method, or you simply have abdicated your sense of morality."
**UPDATE:** It was later stated by Cambridge University representative Tim Holt that Dr. Hawking would miss Facing Tomorrow because of health reasons, and not a decision to boycott Israel. There remained speculation over whether this reasoning was true, or if Hawking was simply backtracking due to pressure.