September 22, 2020

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Anti-Racism Can’t be a Pretext for Anti-Semitism

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To the Editor:

On September 7, a group of professors, graduate students and staff published an open letter to President Martha E. Pollack and Provost Michael Kotlikoff, listing the measures they deem necessary for an “anti-racist Cornell.” Buried within this set of proposals was the curious request that the University address “Cornell Tech’s involvement in the gentrification of Queens and, through its institutional partnership with Technion Israeli Institute of Technology, the military occupation of Palestine.”

Naturally, the authors fail to elaborate further on the nonexistent connection between the Technion and race-related initiatives at Cornell. Perhaps they are unsure themselves. Nor do they request that the University address any of its other international partnerships. Instead, they choose to single out the world’s only Jewish state for opprobrium. The decision to gratuitously target Israel and simultaneously ignore Cornell’s actually questionable international relationships raises serious doubts about the intentions and motives of the authors.

The Technion is an Israeli research university, internationally reputed for its research and innovation. In 2011, Cornell partnered with the Technion to establish Cornell Tech in New York City. The Technion is located in Haifa, which is, by all accounts, even that of the Palestinian Authority, not located in “occupied” or “disputed” territory. No funding from the Israeli government was used to finance the Cornell Tech campus. But none of this matters to the authors, who appear to believe any association with any Israeli institution is problematic. Such a position crosses the boundary from legitimate criticism of Israel into anti-Semitism.

Professors, students and faculty are welcome to disagree with the policy choices of the Israeli government. Criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic. But there is a line and the primary indicia of anti-Semitism are treating Israel differently than every other country and denying its right to exist. In this case, the authors do not mention any other country or any of Cornell’s other international associations. They do not take issue with Cornell’s partnership with Qatar, whose government has funded terrorism and has a dubious human rights record directly associated with the University. They are similarly unperturbed by Cornell’s relationships in China, where millions of Uyghurs are being indefinitely detained without cause and often tortured in “re-education” camps explicitly created to erase their culture.

No, what really bothers the authors is that the Technion had a role in creating Cornell Tech. They are evidently so obsessed with the Middle East’s only true democracy that they saw it necessary to mention it in a letter dealing with a wholly unrelated subject. State-sponsored terrorism and genocide are, apparently, not threats to an “anti-racist Cornell,” but the Jewish state is. Let’s be blunt about what this is: A textbook case of anti-Semitism.

Those who wrote and signed this letter say they want to make Cornell a better, more welcoming place for students and faculty. Racial justice and equality are important values that the Cornell community should continue striving towards. But singling out Israel does nothing to advance the letter’s stated goals. It, in fact, undermines those goals. Treating Israel differently than other countries is a form of anti-Semitism, and it is a shame dozens of professors and graduate students would endorse such prejudice.

Shneur Gansburg ’20
Cornellians for Israel President

Irene Partsuf ’22
Vice President

Danielle Mimeles ’23
Director of Social Media

Matthew Samilow ’22
Director of Education