Stephen Hawking has become the latest high-profile figure to support an academic boycott of Israel. The world-renowned physicist has pulled out of a conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Hawking said he had hoped to express his opinion on the prospect for peace, but was persuaded to withdraw by Palestinian academics.
I don’t think boycotts lead to peace, I don’t think it leads to reconciliation, I don’t think it's effective, in fact it just rallies Israelis, Americans, and westerners to be sceptical of the motivations of Palestinians …. I don’t think BDS is a winner.
A letter added: 'Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.'
Hawking's decision marks another victory for the BDS movement, the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions, against Israeli academic institutions.
Conference organisers issued a response, saying: 'The academic boycott against Israel is in our view outrageous and improper, Israel is a democracy in which all individuals are free to express their opinions, whatever they may be. The imposition of a boycott is incompatible with open, democratic dialogue.'
The BDS campaign was started in 2005 by an alliance of more than 170 Palestinian civil society groups.
BDS campaigners have called for various boycotts against Israel, inspired they say, by those used in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. A growing number of public figures and celebrities, including Bono, Stevie Wonder and Snoop Dogg have expressed support for the campaign, or refused to perform in Israel.
BDS also lobbies against businesses that sell goods it says are produced in illegal Israeli settlements.
Palestinians have been enjoying a broader support from the international community. In November, the United Nations upgraded Palestine's status from what it called an entity to non-member observer state, as of April, 132 of the 193 member states have formally recognised the State of Palestine.
Israel, most of Europe, the US, Canada and Australia do not, and just this week, Google put Palestine on the virtual map, changing the tagline on its website from Palestinian territories to Palestine.
So what are the implications of these protests? And will they make any difference?
Joining Inside Story, with presenter Dareen Abughaida, to discuss this are guests: Sami Hermez, member of the BDS movement, supporting the academic and cultural boycott of Israel; Larry Greenfield, a long-time Jewish activist and former executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; and activist Ben White, who specialises in Palestinian-Israeli affairs.
"This is a fantastic move … because Stephen Hawkings is a mainstream academic that is very well known amongst the general population … and so when someone like that boycotts Israel, you have the possibility of a snowball effect … it is a real important moment."
- Sami Hermez, a member of the BDS movement, supporting the acadmic and cultural boycott of Israel