Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking announced this week that he would not be attending a major academic conference in Jerusalem in June as a way of showing "respect" for the Palestinians' academic boycott of Israel. In response, one rabbi said Hawking was joining the Church of Scotland in "demonizing" Israel.
"I was looking forward to hearing the iconic Stephen Hawking," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in an article for Fox News. "After agreeing to deliver the coveted keynote in Jerusalem, the highly unorthodox Hawking, who has visited Israel four times, has caved to the prevailing virulent anti-Israel orthodoxy among the United Kingdom's elite and announced he'll boycott because of Palestinian protests.
"It's interesting that Hawking, who is a principled atheist, has some kindred souls among theologians of the Church of Scotland."
Hawking made the decision to withdraw from the Presidential Conference in Israel because Palestinian academics had asked him to respect their boycott.
"The academic boycott against Israel is in our view outrageous and improper, certainly for someone for whom the spirit of liberty lies at the basis of his human and academic mission," argued conference Chairman Israel Maimon in a statement.
Hawking has also been criticized by Fair Play, a group which campaigns against boycotts of Israel, noting that the physicist's decision will not help either side.
"Prof. Hawking could have joined the conference and explained his views on the conflict in the region, just as many other participants have done … by boycotting the conference, he has thrown away this opportunity and will help nobody," a Fair Play representative stated.
The conference in question brings together the world's top leaders and intellectuals in a wide-ranging discussion that covers everything from science to politics and religion.
"And what a great choice it was. To hear from a man who has continued to make his indelible mark on the world despite suffering from a debilitating form of the neuro-degenerative disease ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) that has left him completely paralyzed," Cooper said of the original decision to have Hawking deliver the keynote address at the conference.
The rabbi used the opportunity to also criticize a report that was recently drafted by the Church of Scotland, titled "The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the 'Promised Land.'" Critics say the report, which analyzes Israeli government policies against Palestinians, questions whether there is evidence in the Bible to support the Jewish state of Israel.
"Possession of any land is clearly conditional," the report reads. "The question that arises is this: Would the Jewish people today have a fairer claim to the land if they dealt justly with the Palestinians?"
Cooper argued that the report encourages church members to "demonize and de-legitimize the Jewish State and her Zionist supporters."
Notably, the Church of Scotland released a statement in response to criticisms, clarifying, "There is no change in the Church of Scotland's long held position of the right of Israel to exist … The concern of the Church about the injustices faced by the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories remain firm, but that concern should not be misunderstood as questioning the right of the State of Israel to exist."