February 28, 2013

New York City Coalition Decries Cornell-Technion Partnership

Print More

Holding signs that read “Occupation is Illegal” and “No to Technion in NYC,” members of New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership say they plan to continue their protests of the Cornell Tech Campus’ partnership with an Israeli institution, according to the group’s leaders.

NYACT was created in response to an appeal created by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel in March 2012 –– which called for the end of Cornell’s collaboration with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology –– according to Anna Calcutt, one of NYACT’s organizers.

Members of NYACT have been protesting bimonthly outside of Cornell NYC Tech’s temporary Manhattan campus at the Google headquarters in Chelsea since the new tech campus began classes in late January, calling for an end to the partnership.

“We oppose any partnership with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, [which] designs military, surveillance and security equipment that directly contribute to violations of international humanitarian law,” Calcutt said.

The number of protesters present at the organization’s bimonthly protests has remained between 25 and 30 individuals, Calcutt said. An online petition created by NYACT in November demanding Cornell end its partnership with Technion has received more than 300 signatures.

Calcutt said she is certain that the organization is “only going to get bigger.”

“We’re working with various different people in New York and a wider network of activists,” she said. “It’s a useful thing to have a network that isn’t just local, but also national and international.”

In addition to protesting and distributing leaflets, NYACT has been attempting to contact the University, without much success, according to Terri Ginsberg, a member of NYACT, who described Cornell as being “completely unresponsive to [their] concerns and demands.”

“We’ve written letters. We’ve sent emails. They don’t respond to anything we’ve done. I guess that isn’t a huge surprise,” Calcutt said.

Jeremy Soffin, a spokesperson for Cornell NYC Tech, said he thinks NYACT is trying to bring politics into the academic partnership.

“From the Cornell Tech perspective, this is just an academic partnership,” Soffin said.

Ginsberg — who is also an active member of the Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism, an organization that seeks to combat efforts to suppress criticism of Israel or Zionism —  also said she believes the partnership does not match with Cornell’s interests.

“The Cornell-Technion partnership involves a relationship between an American university that has a policy of nondiscrimination with an Israeli university that engages in discrimination,” she said.

However, Eli Shaubi ’13, co-president of the Cornell Israel Political Action Committee, who is a supporter of the Technion partnership, emphasized the importance of the Technion partnership, describing the Israeli institution as the “MIT of Israel.”

“Israel especially brings a sense of innovation to the table that no other country can bring, with its reputation of being the ‘start up nation,’” he said.

Soffin also attested to the importance of the Technion partnership to the tech campus.

“Technion is really a leader in creating entrepreneurs, and so many of the Israeli companies are formed by graduates of Technion. It was really a perfect partner for this project,” he said.

Despite receiving the support of many, Ginsberg said that if it were necessary, NYACT will continue to protest the partnership until 2037 — the year when construction on Roosevelt Island is expected to be completed. However, Calcutt said it would be “fantastic” if NYACT could stop the partnership from happening sooner rather than later.

Furthermore, Ginsberg said NYACT is protesting the partnership because Technion forwards Israeli occupation of Palestine, which she said represents “extensive violations of international law.”

“We’re protesting the Israeli occupation of historic Palestine. We’re protesting the policies of Zionism,” she said.

NYACT said it is open to working with Cornell to discuss the issues at stake. Members of the organization also said they hope to see students discussing these issues on Cornell’s campus in Ithaca, as well as on the tech campus.

“We would like to see genuine discussion and debate about this issue on Cornell’s campus — not a forum that is set up by the University as a propaganda tool meant to forward the present agenda,” Ginsberg said.

In Ithaca, the student organization Students for Justice in Palestine offered their endorsement of NYACT, according to NYACT’s website.

“We oppose the Cornell-Technion partnership because of Technion’s intimate connections to the Israeli occupation and the ways in which the institution works against academic freedom, equal rights and the universal right to an education,” the organization said in an email sent to the Sun.

Still, Shaubi said he believes it is important to talk about the issues.

“I think that in order to have a real honest and productive dialogue, it is really important for both sides to accept the legitimacy of each others grievances so we can really talk,” he said.

SJP also emphasized the need to maintain a discussion on campus, according to the email. The group, however, said it is disappointed with the lack of transparency involved in creating and finalizing the Cornell-Technion partnership.

“Ignoring Technion’s role in maintaining and furthering the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a decision of this magnitude about the future direction of our university is something that everyone, faculty and students included, should have been included in from the beginning,” the organization said in the email.

Over time, NYACT hopes to expand and make the issue more visible to the community, Ginsberg said.

“We have many ideas for continuing and expanding the NYACT project and for rendering the issue more visible,” she said. “We’re trying very hard to make constructive use of the media to get the word out [and] facilitate public discussion and debate.”

Original Author: Tyler Alicea