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"This otherwise utterly failed and discredited far-left radical extremist so-called reporter" - Hawking's Israel boycott, Tweet by Tweet

At 8.20PM on Tuesday, May 7, I noticed this on my Twitter feed

Which linked to this


Stephen Hawking declines invitation to attend Israeli conference

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.


So I contacted people I knew at BRICUP, who confirmed the story and gave me some background. Then I sent this email to Peres's spokesman:

From: Matthew Kalman 
Date: Tue, May 7, 2013 at 8:38 PMSubject: Stephen HawkingTo: yairz@president.gov.il
Yair:
There are reports that Stephen Hawking has cancelled his appearance at the President's Conference in June. Do you have any info?
Matthew
While waiting for his reply, I contacted two of the papers I regularly write for. They weren't interested in the story. Rather than waste the tip, which clearly would be a huge story by morning, I called Harriet Sherwood at The Guardian, who generously suggested I should report it for them. I confirmed the facts of the story, but no-one would talk on the record. Just before midnight, I tried Peres's spokesman again:
From: יאיר זיוון
Date: Wed, May 8, 2013 at 12:17 AMSubject: Re: URGENT: Stephen Hawking - Comment request for The GuardianTo: Matthew Kalman
I don't have any info on that now because its the presidents conference people who would deal with it but happy to get you an answer tomorrow.
From: Matthew Kalman
Date: Wed, May 8, 2013 at 12:20 AM
Subject: Re: URGENT: Stephen Hawking - Comment request for The Guardian
To: יאיר זיוון
Going to press in half an hour. I emailed you three hours ago.

I filed the story at 12.54AM on May 8. While they were editing, I Tweeted the news:
Then came this response from Peres's spokesman:
From: יאיר זיוון
Date: Wed, May 8, 2013 at 1:22 AM
Subject: Re: URGENT: Stephen Hawking - Comment request for The Guardian
To: Matthew Kalman
If it's an urgent press question late in the evening then you should call or message. Your initial email (at 20;40) didn't give any indication that it was urgent.
It's not our office but the presidents conference who deal with speakers at the conference and as I said I'm happy to try and get you the answers first thing in the morning but your contact point is Matthew Krieger there.
I think it would be better to wait and get a proper response from them before going to print with something like this.
The Peres people never did send me a comment. At 2.30AM on May 8, the Guardian story went live:



























It became one of the most widely-read stories ever published on The Guardian website, with more than 50,000 Facebook shares by 3PM and more than 100,000 in total.

As the Guardian story went viral, I sought more information and reaction from Cambridge U and Peres's people in Jerusalem. I knew about Hawking's letter but still did not have permission to quote it.
From: Matthew Kalman
Date: Wed, May 8, 2013 at 10:31 AM
Subject: Comment request on Jerusalem Conference from The Guardian
To: S.W.Hawking@damtp.cam.ac.uk, tim.holt@admin.cam.ac.uk
Dear Tim, Prof Hawking:
I am the reporter who broke the story about the Jerusalem Conference in today's Guardian. We are updating the story today and would appreciate any comment you have. In particular, we would love to quote the letter sent to President Peres, if possible.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Matthew Kalman
From: Tim Holt
Date: Wed, May 8, 2013 at 10:36 AM
Subject: Re: Comment request on Jerusalem Conference from The Guardian
To: "matthewkalman@gmail.com"
No further comment Matthew
Tim
Still nothing from Peres's office. Then, without warning, a new statement from Cambridge U spokesman Tim Holt - though he never sent it to me - suggesting my original story was wrong.

Had I been duped? I asked Holt for clarification.
From: Matthew Kalman
Date: Wed, May 8, 2013 at 3:18 PM
Subject: Urgent: Hawking not coming for health reasons?
To: Tim Holt
Dear Tim:
Please can you confirm/comment on this statement, just published online. Perhaps we can talk off the record?
Statement on Professor Hawking and Jerusalem conference - 8 June, 2013
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."
Thanks,
Matthew
From: Tim Holt
Date: Wed, May 8, 2013 at 3:19 PM
Subject: RE: Urgent: Hawking not coming for health reasons?
To: Matthew Kalman
Hi Matthew
This is the reason for the cancellation of his visit. No further comment for the time being.
Tim Holt MCIPR
Acting Director of Communications
Office of External Affairs and Communications,
University of Cambridge.
That opened a floodgate of criticism and insults. Some people challenged my story firmly but politely:
Others descended into vitriol. It was amateur hour on the blogosphere:

BREAKING: HAWKING ISRAEL BOYCOTT STORY IS A FRAUD
May 8, 2013
It turns out that Stephen Hawking’s cancelled trip to Israel is not a matter of boycotting the Jewish state, but rather merely a result of.... Read More
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The Guardian Got it Wrong: Stephen Hawking is NOT Boycotting Israel 

MAY 8, 2013 9:58 AM Author:
avatarAdam Levick
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Last night, May 8, the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood ‘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 featured prominently on their 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:
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: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.

But soon I had the text of Hawking's boycott letter. I called Tim Holt in Cambridge to demand an explanation. Still no comment. Then this arrived:
From: Tim Holt
Date: Wed, May 8, 2013 at 4:24 PM
Subject: RE: Comment request on Jerusalem Conference from The Guardian
To: Matthew Kalman
Can you call me please?
Tim Holt MCIPR
Acting Director of Communications
Office of External Affairs and Communications,
University of Cambridge.
Over the phone, Holt admitted the "health" statement was wrong and apologized. 
TIM HOLT: “You were right. Stephen did send a letter on Friday to the Israeli Presidential office saying that he would respect the boycott. Your sources were correct and you have my apologies. I was misinformed.”
I asked Holt to issue a revised statement, began drafting my update for the Guardian and Tweeted the about-turn:
Crispian Balmer, Jerusalem Bureau Chief for Reuters, wasn't the only one who found it hard to believe the flip-flopping from Cambridge U.







Finally, close to 6PM, Holt issued the retraction from Cambridge U. It wasn't exactly what he'd said to me by phone, but it was good enough to vindicate our version of the story as 100% accurate:
From: Tim Holt
Date: Wed, May 8, 2013 at 5:57 PM
Subject: RE: Comment request on Jerusalem Conference from The Guardian
To: Matthew Kalman
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
Acting Director of Communications
Office of External Affairs and Communications,
University of Cambridge.
Even my most vociferous critics had to eat their words, from this:







To this:


























But reactions were still mixed:





I decided to write a quick blog for the Open Zion section of The Daily Beast chronicling the twists and turns of the previous 24 hours.

Some people responded as if they knew and hated me personally:
GaborFränklThe problem is that this otherwise utterly failed and discredited far-left radical extremist so-called reporter has been working for a number of publications and papers in the past few years alone, some of them as a freelancer. Independent, Guardian, Christian Science Monitor whatnot, the whole discredited bunch with zero press ethics. Clearly this odious self-hater couldn’t be happier reporting his fellow antisemites’ abominations as he is jumping up and down in his glee as it turns out from the closing para. in his Daily Beast piece, spouting inane BS about this supposedly decent and pure as white simpleton, primitive dupe of Islamists [Hawking]. I say to him - M.K. - let there be no bigger joy and happiness in his whole life. The ultimate chutzpah is framing deviously and maliciously his closing lines over at the DB as he did. One disgusting stomach-turning individual M. Kalman is, for sure

And some people, apparently, still didn't get it:


MORE ON THIS STORY:

Stephen Hawking joins academic boycott of Israel (Wednesday morning, 8 May 2013)
(Original Guardian scoop)

Furore deepens over Stephen Hawking's Israel boycott (Wednesday evening, 8 May 2013)

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