The Guardian got it wrong: Stephen Hawking is NOT boycotting Israel (Updated)

Last night, May 8, the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood and Matthew Kelman ‘broke’ a story claiming that Stephen Hawking was joining the academic boycott of Israel, and that he was “pulling out of a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.”

The report, based it seems on claims made by British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), was picked up by news sites around the world, was featured prominently on the Guardian website and was followed up with a poll asking readers if they agreed with Hawking “decision” to boycott Israel.  

Here’s how the Guardian’s Israel page looks at the time of this post:


As you can see, the original story was read by quite a few Guardian readers:


There was just one problem.

The Guardian evidently didn’t check their facts, as information has been released strongly suggesting that the world-renowned theoretical physicist and former Professor at Cambridge pulled out of the Israeli academic conference purely for health reasons.  

The Commentator reported the following:

…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. A 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.”

Further, a spokesman for Cambridge University sent the following email to a CiF Watch reader in response to an inquiry, which is consistent with the following story in the Cambridge News:


The only questions which seems to remain is how long it will take for the Guardian to issue a mea culpa on their faux scoop.

Update: The Guardian’s Matthew Kalman is now claiming that the Cambridge denial is untrue, and that Hawking indeed supports the boycott.

Update II: It now appears that the original denial by Hawkings spokesperson was not accurate, and that Hawking indeed cancelled his trip as an expression of support for the boycott of Israel.   

39 replies »

  1. The Guardian article says:

    “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”

    So from where did they get the “statement published … Hawking’s approval.”

    I am sending a email to Tim Holt thanking him for the clarification.


    • From Reuters:

      “Cambridge University, where Hawking works, confirmed that the statement had been approved by the professor. Hawking did not issue any statement in his own name.”

      This is awfully confusing.

  2. Regardless why he pulled out he still stands with the muslims against Israel…

    • I had no idea his religion-defying, unifying theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics could be so divisive!
      And if anything: surely it’d be the other way around.

  3. I was a bit suspicious of this news because BDS groups have a history of claiming BDS victories where there aren’t any (in the past they also claimed a few companies divested from Israel when those companies simply stopped doing business in Israel for mundane financial reasons) but I figured, hey, this is the Guardian, right? They know their stuff. Silly me.

  4. The Guardian, BDS and BRICUP were all only too eager to claim Professor Hawking as sympathising with their nefarious viewpoint so they didn’t want the report to be erroneous. When did truth matter to these organisations?

  5. Did Al Guardian publish a story based on a forgery by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine?

  6. Professor Hawking is owed an apology.And the Guardian is an absolute disgrace for not checking its sources and facts.

    • For not checking its sources and facts? The Guardian’s disgrace goes way beyond that.

  7. another example of the cowardice of the press. big tough guys picking on a crippled septuagenarian. The press are a bunch of marxist cowards with zero journalistic integrity. they willfully sell out to the highest bidder and create grief with every stroke of a pen.

  8. more to the point , all this publicity is a win for BDS. This is all free media for their cause. Nothing else matters.
    75.000 dead Arabs in Syria? naaaa, Stephen fucking Hawkins not going to Israel. Seriously who care’s ?

    • all this publicity is a win for BDS

      Good or bad? It all depends on how the respective reports (i.e. the initial “Hawking boycotts Israel!” and the subsquent reversal) impact.

  9. “Professor Hawking will not be attending the conference in Israel in June for health reasons – his doctors have advised against him flying.”

    Yes – and the Queen isn’t attending the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka because she’s too old for long haul flights. Like just as if in both cases.

  10. Most thinking people will be well aware of the Guardian’s pro Palestinian stance, so yes, let’s see how long it takes them pull that stunt and make an unreserved apology to its readers.

    • I shouldn’t hold your breath, as I won’t hold mine until Sue Blackwell apologises on this blog

    • Why should Cifwatch apologise sencar? Because the pathetic cowardice of the spokesman of Oxford University? Or maybe because one more bigot came out with his bigotry? I somehow seriously doubt that Hawking now will throw away his communication equipment consisting an Intel microprocessor developped in Israel…Or will he put his feet where your mouth is and from now will communicate through his arse?

  11. Peter, it’s Cambridge which, I strongly suspect, relies on Arab/Saudi funding as does Oxford. Why else would the latter offer tenure to Tariq Ramadan?

    Somehow I can’t bring myself to feel animosity towards Hawking who is very vulnerable and we cannot know the full story yet. No. I save my ire for the likes of Sue Blackwell, silly woman that she is, and her utter lack of morality to use Hawking in such a fashion to further her crazed anti-Israel agenda.

    The blowback from this ought to consume her and it’d serve her right.