Wednesday, May 08, 2013

How low can Israel-haters go? They lie about Stephen Hawking boycotting Israel! (UPDATES, seems story was accurate)

See updates below.

Last night, the Israel haters were crowing about their latest "victory." As the Guardian gleefully wrote:
Professor Stephen Hawking is backing the academic boycott of Israel by pulling out of a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem as a protest at Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

Hawking, 71, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had accepted an invitation to headline the fifth annual president's conference, Facing Tomorrow, in June, which features major international personalities, attracts thousands of participants and this year will celebrate Peres's 90th birthday.

Hawking is in very poor health, but last week he wrote a brief letter to the Israeli president to say he had changed his mind. He has not announced his decision publicly, but a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking's approval described it as "his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there".

Hawking's decision marks another victory in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli academic institutions.
The British Committee for the Universities of Palestine is, of course, an anti-Israel group and anything they say is automatically suspect - but not for The Guardian.

Here was BRICUP's announcement:
We understand that Professor Stephen Hawking has declined his invitation to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference Facing Tomorrow 2013, due to take place in Jerusalem on 18-20 June. 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.

Only one problem. As usual, the people who have a delusional, pathological hatred of Israel and the idea of a Jewish state aren't the most trustworthy people on the planet.

As The Commentator - a media outlet that actually does real reporting - discovered:
A Cambridge university spokesperson has confirmed to The Commentator that there was a "misunderstanding" this past weekend, and that Prof. Hawking had pulled out of the conference for medical reasons.

...[The] University spokesman said: "Professor Hawking will not be attending the conference in Israel in June for health reasons - his doctors have advised against him flying."

When asked for further information, the spokesperson confirmed that the BRICUP organisation had "assumed" Hawking's position on the matter, and that it was fundamentally untrue.
To be fair, the BBC quoted a different university spokesperson as saying that "the renowned scientist had approved the BRICUP statement." Which makes it sound like the University of Cambridge needs to gets its act together. But it seems likely that the statement quoted in The Commentator, which is the latest one we have and was made with the knowledge of the earlier reporting, is the correct one.

Moreover, a CiFWatch reader who emailed to the University received this response:

How sick does someone have to be to take advantage Stephen Hawking's illness to spread vicious lies?

Well, it is pretty much the same sickness that causes them to irrationally attack only the most liberal state in the Middle East, and condone the acts of its neighbors, every chance they get.

UPDATE: AP confirms the Commentator's reporting:

Tim Holt, media director at the University of Cambridge, said Hawking’s decision was based strictly on health concerns.

“For health reasons, his doctors said he should not be flying at the moment so he’s decided not to attend,” Holt said. “He is 71 years old. He’s fine, but he has to be sensible about what he can do.”

A University of Cambridge statement released earlier Wednesday cited “personal reasons” for his decision.

...University spokesman Holt said that Hawking “did not specifically approve” the committee’s statement. Holt said he had asked the committee to remove the posting.
Holt is Hawking's official spokesperson. (h/t Avi Mayer)

But The Guardian is doubling down:

See also The Commentator's update with a newer tweet from Kalman - but still no spokesperson's name.

UPDATE 2: BRICUP claims that they have seen the Hawking letter declining participation due to BDS and they claim that Tim Holt agrees:

The statement above has been issued with the specific endorsement of Professor Hawking's office. His staff sent us the following message on 7 May "Just spoken to Tim [Tim Holt, Acting Director of Communications for Cambridge University] and we are both in agreement with the quote - and as you say - sensible to get this out rather than a lot of differing opinions." We have seen the letter that Professor Hawking sent to the Jerusalem organisers giving his clear reasons for not attending and are seeking his permission to release the letter but will not do so until we have his approval. We regret the misinformation being circulated about this matter.
Cambridge is looking idiotic. But it is wise to wait until we at least hear from Holt himself.

UPDATE 3: Holt has confirmed the original story:

Statement on Professor Hawking and Jerusalem conference
8 June 2013

A University spokesman said:

“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.”

Tim Holt MCIPR