Supported by several professors, a pro-Palestinian student organization is calling on the University to end its partnership with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. The group alleges that the Technion is implicated in war crimes as a result of its involvement in Israeli military research and development.
In response to a petition started by the group online, the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday posted a thank-you letter to University administrators for forging the partnership. The two universities will build a tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City over the next 30 years.
The petition, written by Students for Justice in Palestine, criticizes the Technion’s relationship with two of Israel’s major defense corporations, Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. It calls the Technion “a full participant in the actions carried out by the Israeli military” that oppresses Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Provost Kent Fuchs said the partnership is intended to foster academic collaboration and was not intended as a political statement in support of the Israeli government.
“We partnered with Technion in this new venture because of our complementary academic expertise and strengths and our shared vision for a campus that will help transform New York City into a world hub of innovation and technology commercialization,” Fuchs said in an email Monday.
The petition was borne out of a broader boycott against Israeli organizations, according to Max Ajl grad, a member of SJP.
“This is not our call for a boycott,” Ajl said. “We are responding to a call for a boycott that was put out by Palestinian civil society.”
Ajl said Technion’s actions play a fundamental role in developing technologies that oppress Palestinians.
Additionally, Technion works with Rafael and Elbit, which have developed technologies for use in Israeli Merkava Mark IV tanks, and which have also helped to develop military surveillance drones used in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, according to Ajl.
However, CIPAC members said the petition’s accusations against the Technion were unfounded because it wrongly accuses Israel of committing war crimes.
“The petition ignores Israel’s right to defend itself. With security threats from multiple fronts and facing enemies who employ civilians as human shields, Israel must rely on the innovative military technologies developed by institutions such as the Technion to defend itself,” Emily Rotbart ’12 and Yotam Arens ’12, co-presidents of CIPAC, wrote in an email.
SJP brought their complaints to Fuchs in December, before Mayor Bloomberg’s decision was announced, according to Ajl. The group plans to bring the issue to the attention of the Faculty Senate and to hold an open discussion on the collaboration on March 1.
Students are not the only opponents the administration faces. Prof. Elizabeth Sanders, government, said concerns were raised about the substance and process of Cornell’s collaboration with Technion at a Feb 8. Faculty Senate meeting. Sanders also signed the petition.
Partnering with Technion constituted “an endorsement of a university that is heavily involved in the Israeli military-industrial complex, and that decision was taken in complete secrecy, as the Provost acknowledged, without any consultation with the faculty,” Sanders said.
Sanders called this collaboration “a political decision of symbolic importance” for its apparent endorsement of a situation that “doesn’t leave a good taste.”
“This could be, and no doubt will be, interpreted as a warm embrace of the [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu government that funds Technion, and of the Israeli occupation,” she said. “And Technion –– much to the surprise, I think, of faculty –– is not putting forward any money whatever, so it has to be seen as a very symbolic decision. Nobody would argue that this is the best university in the world with which we could have partnered.”
Fuchs said he does not support boycotting other universities. Though some students may have disagreements with the politics of a partner university’s government, he said, cooperation between two academic institutions can “contribute to the betterment of our global community.”
“Cornell can be the most effective when we as individuals and as an institution exercise our academic freedom and engage with universities worldwide in collaborations and partnerships, both formal and informal,” Fuchs said.
Yet Prof. Eric Cheyfitz, English, who signed the petition, said the partnership raises ethical questions about how universities should collaborate.
“The Cornell University bylaws state: that one of ‘the functions of the University Faculty shall be to consider questions of educational policy which concern more than one college, school or separate academic unit, or are general in nature,’” Cheyfitz said in an email. “In the case of the Technion partnership, no such consideration was afforded the faculty through its representatives in the Faculty Senate.”
Ajl said the University’s decision could forever stain Cornell’s image.
“The University made a business decision and it will go ahead with it unless it decides that it makes sense to not go ahead with it,” Ajl said. “It raises enormous questions about the University’s ethics because from now on every single war crime that the Israeli army commits, Cornell’s hand will be on it, and that raises questions about the future of this institution.”
As of Monday night, the petition had 576 signatures.
Editor’s note: Rebecca Harris ’14, a Sun news editor-in-training, is Chair of Political Affairs for Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee. She was not involved in the editing of this article.