Stephen Hawking has backed the academic boycott of Israel, pulling out of a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres.
In a gesture of support for the Palestinian cause, the physicist and author of the 'brief history of time' wrote a letter explaining he could no longer accept the invitation to 'Facing Tomorrow' conference in June, "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 (Bricup) said.
Confirmation that Hawking personally approved the wording of Bricup's statement has been seen by the Huffington Post UK.
Hawking had been urged by pro-Palestinian groups to boycott the annual conference, this year planned as part of celebrations for Peres's 90th birthday, but said in a letter he came to the decision 'independently.'
Calls for an academic boycott of Israel began in 2002 as part of a range of activities intended to isolate the country and force a change in Israel's policies towards the Palestinians.
However Hawking visited Israel in 2006, giving public lectures at Israeli and Palestinian universities as the guest of the British embassy in Tel Aviv.
Elvis Costello, Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Annie Lennox and Mike Leigh are among well-known names who have joined the boycott.
"The academic boycott against Israel is in our view outrageous and improper, certainly for someone for whom the spirit of libertylies at the basis of his human and academic mission," conference chairman Israel Maimon said in a statement.
The University of Cambridge had previously cited health concerns as Prof Hawkings' reason for missing the conference.
University spokesman Tim Holt told The Huffington Post: “We have now received confirmation from Professor Hawking’s office that a letter was sent on Friday to the Israeli President’s office regarding his decision not to attend the Presidential Conference, based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott.
“We had understood previously that his decision was based purely on health grounds having been advised by doctors not to fly.”