February 22, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Debating the Technion

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To the Editor:

Re: “Stand Up for Israel, President Skorton” Opinion, Feb. 20

In a recent opinion piece, Judah Bellin ’12 criticized the initiative of Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine to oppose the collaboration with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. The column claims that the motivation behind our petition opposing the Cornell-Technion collaboration is simple: We wish to “delegitimize Israel.” We reject that accusation as a smokescreen meant to obscure the core issues.

The key question is whether the Israeli military is carrying out war crimes and a belligerent occupation. The answer is simply yes. However, the article changes the question and moves straight to what it considers the main absurdity of our position: that by opposing defensive measures as “basic” as improved tank armor and the separation barrier, we are against Israel itself. But of course, tank armor is not meant simply to protect soldiers, but to protect them as they engage in violence toward others.

Israeli tanks have not been used for defense in almost three decades. They are used for offensive incursions. Better tanks make better killing machines, as Gaza in 2008-09 or Lebanon in 2006 showed. The armor plating that the “Stand Up For Israel” column defends allows Merkava tanks to rove murderously in the Gaza Strip, a tiny territory filled with children.

If the wall Israel is building were purely defensive, it would be built along the Green Line. Because it extends far into the West Bank, taking 12 percent of its territory, the International Court of Justice condemned it as “tantamount to de facto annexation,” and said that other states should not  “recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall.” Does international law apply to Israel or simply to the weak?

The column further claims that delegitimization of Israel is the “unmistakable subtext” of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, since, according to him, those who call for BDS apply a standard toward Israel that they spare other human rights offenders like the US and Syria. This is proof, for Bellin, that BDS “isn’t about human rights” but about bashing Israel. However, as Naomi Klein has succinctly written, “boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic.” If there were a boycott being actively undertaken against Saudi Arabia, we would eagerly endorse it. Furthermore, the Palestinians called for the boycott, not us. Surely they have the right to take action against the occupation.

No one should have to show his or her passport or religious backgrounds in order to participate in a debate about universal human rights. But hidden in “Stand Up For Israel’s” bilious references to “delegitimization” of the “Jewish state” lies an implicit accusation of anti-Semitism. So we should mention that Cornell SJP includes several Jews and Israelis among its membership. We do not think it wise that Israel burns children with white phosphorus in the name of the Jews. But then we do not think it wise that Israel burns children with white phosphorus at all. Our campaign against the collaboration with Technion is not about delegitimizing Israel (whatever that may mean) but rather reflects our principled opposition to our university’s partnership with an institution that contributes to human rights abuses.

We categorically reject the accusation of delegitimization, and invite the Cornell community to learn more about Technion’s role in the Israeli occupation so that they can decide for themselves if we are delegitimizing Israel or merely the crimes it carries out.

Monday’s article got one thing right: This is an inherently political issue. The Israeli political establishment desperately needs legitimacy and recognition in the eyes of global civil society. High profile collaborations like the one in New York City with Cornell are a way of legitimizing institutions, like Technion, that are intimately involved in the occupation. Such a prestigious project will invariably make it seem a little more normal, a little more acceptable for universities to serve as gadget factories for military oppression, rather than as centers of knowledge and critical inquiry. This, perhaps more than any other reason, is why we oppose this collaboration.

Max Ajl grad, Carl Gelderloos grad, Ari Linden grad, Mario Martone grad, Kevin McGinnis ’13, Liron Mor grad, John Robbins grad, Dan Sinykin grad

Members of  Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine