Israeli university gaining a toehold in Manhattan specializes in weapons development

ActivismFeaturesIsrael/PalestineUS Politics
on 12 Comments
hermes 450
The IDF used a Rafael weaponized variation of this Hermes 450 drone in Operation Cast Lead. Both Elbit and Rafael have partnerships with Technion. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

On Monday, December 19, New York City and Cornell University announced a “historic” partnership with Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, where the two universities will build an applied sciences campus on Roosevelt Island, supported by a $100 million capital gift from New York City. The project was also funded by a $350 million gift from an anonymous donor (now revealed to be philanthropist Charles Feeney).

Following the city’s decision, Israeli Consul General Ido Aharoni spoke with The Jewish Week about the engineering campus project, stating, “this is of strategic importance in terms of positioning Israel not only in America, but all over the world, as a bastion of creativity and innovation.” Technion is a major educator in the field of science–the university produces approximately half of the leadership of Israeli NASDAQ companies. But what was not discussed in the bid run-off, is Technion’s entrenchment in systems of militarism and discrimination.  These systems of violence and discrimination in education, practiced in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, respectively, raise ethical and legal questions for New York City in entering a contract with Technion.

An April 2011 report by Tadamon, a Montreal-based activist organization titled Structures of Oppression: Why McGill and Concordia Universities must sever their links with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, investigates these issues: Technion’s links to Elbit Systems Ltd. (an Israeli military security and surveillance company) and Rafael Advanced Systems Ltd. (founded in 1948 as part of the Israeli Ministry of Defense), the technologies developed at Technion, and the school’s discrimination towards Palestinian students–by way of institutionalized preferential treatment towards active duty and reservist IDF students.

  Elbit’s computer vision, eye tracking device developed
       with Technion. (Photo: Elbit Systems Ltd.)

Elbit Systems Ltd.

A multi-billion dollar company that provides security equipment to the IDF, including “unmanned aerial and ground vehicles,” Elbit’s current partnership with Technion is a joint-venture since 2008, the Visions Systems Research Initiative, which according to Elbit, designs “an advanced eye tracking laboratory that enables real-time measurement of gaze and eye movement.” reported:

The company supplied UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to the Israeli army, which are in operational use in during combat in the West Bank and Gaza. The cameras in these UAV are manufactured by Controp Precision Tehnologies.

The security contractor previously has lost contracts with the Norwegian Finance Ministry and Danske Bank because of Elbit’s work with the IDF in the West Bank occupation. researched Elbit’s  security contracts with the Jerusalem section of the wall, where Elbit provides “surveillance cameras in the Ariel section and for the A-ram wall,” which constitutes a violation of international law. 

Rafael Advanced Systems Ltd.

An Israeli government-owned weapons producer and major Israeli employer, Rafael Advanced Systems Ltd., has provided the IDF with security services since the 1970s, and is partnered with Technion through a specialized degree program. Tadamon chronicles the academic/weapons producer partnership:

The company has maintained a research and project-based relationship with Technion for many years. In 2001, Technion announced a three-year in-house MBA program tailored specifically for Rafael managers. In partnership with Rafael, students and faculty members of the Technion’s Faculty of Aerospace Engineering launched a ‘two-stage research rocket’ in May 2006. The Ramtech rocket took five years to build, and was completed by approximately 20 different students under the supervision of Technion Professor Alon 21 Gany and Yitzhak Greenberg from Rafael (also a Technion graduate).

Rafael produces medium range missiles that outfit Elbit drones, used during the 2008-9 Israeli assault on Gaza. The unmanned aerial vehicles, weaponized by Rafael, were used in cases of indiscriminate violence on civilians and internationals, including 87 deaths in Operation Cast Lead, as reported by Human Rights Watch.

From the 2009 Human Rights Watch report:

Israel’s primary armed drones are the Hermes, produced by the Israeli company Elbit Systems Ltd., and the Heron, produced by Israeli Aerospace Industries. The Hermes can stay aloft for up to 24 hours at altitudes of up to 18,000 feet and has an array of optical, infrared, and laser sensors that allow the operator to identify and track targets as well as to guide munitions in flight. The Hermes carries two Spike-MR (medium range) missiles, sometimes called the ‘Gil’ in Israel, produced by the Israeli firm Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. The Heron drone, which can fly for up to 40 hours at 30,000 feet, has similar optics to the Hermes and can carry four Spike missiles. In Gaza, Israel used both the Hermes and Heron drones armed with the Spike, though it may have also used other missiles.

Technion Develops Weapons

Technion, through the Technion Autonomous Systems Program developed Rafan, a small helicopter, weighing approximately 1 kilogram, used for surveillance, and unmanned bulldozers. This program has the support of three different academic centers whose focus is creating weapons to support various branches of military.

Discrimination against Palestinians

Tadamon details IDF programs with Technion, in which active-duty and reservist students are privileged over Palestinian students, through academic incentives and programs. As Palestinian citizens of Israel are exempt from military service, these programs are effectively exclusively for Israeli-Jewish students. Tadamon reviews the two programs, Atidim and Brakim:

The Technion is a partner in the Brakim academic reserve program, ‘the latest in a series of joint Israel Defense Forces (IDF)/Technion academic initiatives.’ Taking place in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, the Brakim program allows 15 students to complete both their Bachelor’s and Master’s in Science degrees in four years. ‘Like other students in the Atuda (academic reserve program), Brakim participants will complete their undergraduate degrees and apply their education during their military service,’ as stated in the publication Technion Focus. According to a brochure released by the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, the, ‘Brakim program [was] initiated to meet the request of the IDF to create an elite group of mechanical engineers to become the future R&D leaders in IDF.’

Also, in 2009, the university exhibited a double standard toward dissent by Palestinian students and Jewish-Israeli students. A Palestinian protest was criminalized. Tadamon notes, when two protests were held in 2009, one protest “ended with the arrest of 10 Palestinian students, although the Zionist right-wing counter protest was much larger and unapproved.”

The Tadamon report recommends the universities sever ties with Technion, based on the partnerships with “the Israeli military, the Israeli military-industrial complex, and Israel’s grave violations of international law and Palestinian rights.” Furthermore, Tadamon charges Technion has “full knowledge” of the development of weapons specifically used for violations of international law, and asks other universities to not normalize these abuses to law and human life. 

With human rights organizations calling for universities to sever ties with Technion, New York City’s and Cornell’s decision to build a partnership with the school on Roosevelt Island should be closely scrutinized.

    Leave a Reply