‘New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership’ oppose Technion’s role in U.S. militarization and domestic spying

ActivismIsrael/Palestine

The paper below, a revised transcript, was authored by Anna Calcutt and presented by her on behalf of New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT) at Judson Memorial Church on October 23, 2013 as part of a panel discussion hosted by NYACT, entitled “Militarization, Domestic Spying, and the Boycott of Israel,” and including additional participants from Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel; Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM); and RootsAction.

Introduction

In December 2010, New York City Mayor Bloomberg announced a competition to build a 2.1 million square foot applied sciences and engineering graduate school in Manhattan.  He offered $100 million in New York taxpayer money and free land.[1]  Various universities made bids, including Stanford, which were frontrunners until close to the end; however, Cornell University and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology won the competition.[2]

Behind close doors, Cornell and Technion had come to an agreement to enter the competition as a partnership.[3]  This was decided without consulting staff, faculty, or students at Cornell, which is in violation of Cornell’s own by-laws.[4]  It was done with as little information as possible being given out about Technion, the two universities waiting until 10 days before the city’s deadline for proposals before revealing their union publicly.  The winning bid was announced in December 2011 and is now known as “Cornell NYC Tech,” or just “Cornell Tech.”  Since then, reporting on the campus has scarcely mentioned the involvement of Technion, despite Cornell claiming that it was the inclusion of Technion which enabled them to win the competition.

The proposed campus is to be built on prime real estate on Roosevelt Island in the East River between the Upper East Side of Manhattan and Queens.  It will take about 25 years to construct, and entails the demolition of Goldwater Hospital, a long-term care facility on the Island.  The proposed site will include space for private companies on campus.

Since December 2012, this shameful collaboration now includes Google, which has donated free office space in its Chelsea building to house Cornell Tech until 2017, when the first new academic building on Roosevelt Island is scheduled for completion.[5]

New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership, or NYACT, formed in February 2012, to oppose the collaboration of Cornell and Technion.  We formed in response to the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions, and in particular to the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel.[6,7]

We oppose any collaboration with Israeli academic or cultural institutions on the grounds that we do not support the whitewashing of Israeli apartheid.  While most Israeli universities are involved in one way or another in supporting Israeli Apartheid and the Occupation, Technion is an extreme example and is the most notorious and prestigious academic institution that cooperates with the Israeli military.  Quoting a New York Times article earlier this year, Yossi Vardi, who has founded or helped build more than 60 companies in Israel and has five degrees from the Technion states: “I can say without exaggeration that Israel could not have been built without the Technion…. There is a Technion graduate behind practically every highway, desalinization plant, new missile technology and start-up company in the country.”[8]

Why do we oppose Technion coming to New York City?

  • Technion’s links with surveillance operations

The American Technion Society, which is a New York City-based fundraising/public relations outlet for Technion, states in a YouTube video: “The world often turns to Israel for anti-terror and surveillance technology. But where does Israel turn? The Technion.”  For example the Technion’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering has developed de-hazing technologies used to improve surveillance images obtained by unmanned airborne drones.[9]

Technion works with a large number of companies in Israel and worldwide.  This includes forging collaborations between academic departments and the private sector to develop specific technologies, having students work in partnership with companies on projects, training Technion graduates who go on to comprise the workforce including engineers, vice presidents and CEOs of businesses, and inviting companies to take part in graduate recruitment fairs on campus.[10]

There is already a visiting assistant professor from Technion teaching at Cornell Tech in Google’s offices.  His department, Technion’s Computer Science department, lists among its industrial partners and affiliates Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Elbit Systems, and Google, as well as some less well known companies such as Comverse, Amdocs, and Check Point.[11, 12]  Technion also has close links with Verint, and NICE systems.  These less well-known companies are worth knowing about.

NICE systems, Comverse, and Check Point are three of Israel’s largest high-tech companies, and they are influenced by technology developed by Unit 8200 – Israel’s version of the NSA which is involved in the surveillance of Palestinian phone and internet traffic.[13, 14, 15] Check Point and NICE were founded by Unit 8200 alumni, and one of Comverse’s main products is based on the Unit’s technology.  Comverse develops and markets telecommunications software used, among other things, to direct airborne drones.[16] And Check Point is an international provider of software and hardware products for IT security.  The ironically named NICE systems specializes in telephone voice recording, data security, and surveillance, as well as systems that analyze this recorded data.[17]  NICE lists among its leading customers the New York Police Department and the Miami Police Department.[18]

Verint, which acquired Comverse in February of this year, is considered the world leader in “electronic interception,” and Amdocs is the world’s largest billing service for telecommunications.  Both companies are based in Israel and are heavily funded by the Israeli government, with connections to the Israeli military and intelligence, and both have major contracts with the US government.  Verint and Amdocs form part of the backbone of the US government’s domestic intelligence surveillance technology.  Verint was one of the companies (the other being Narus) to which Verizon and AT&T outsourced their mass wiretapping of US citizens as orchestrated by the NSA since 2001. Amdocs has also been accused of wiretapping, for which it was investigated by the FBI.[19, 20, 21]

Since 2006 Verint has worked with the US State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs to carry out a mass telephone surveillance system in Mexico.  According to Verint’s Mexico website: “Police forces, national security, intelligence and other government agencies can use these solutions …. as part of a large-scale system designed to generate evidence and intelligence….”[22]

Verint is now headquartered on Long Island, and its President and CEO, a Technion graduate, stated his enthusiastic support for the partnership of Technion with Cornell at a 2012 Israel Day event at the New York Stock Exchange.[23]

  •  Technion’s involvement in military R+D

Technion is also heavily involved in research and development of military equipment.  Specialists at Technion developed the remote controlled capabilities of the Caterpillar D-9 tractor, the notorious armored bulldozer which is an essential weapon of Israel’s occupation, enabling the Israeli army to demolish approximately25,000 Palestinian homes since 1967.[24] This bulldozer “performed remarkably during operation Cast Lead” – to quote an IDF Officer and is used by the Israeli military to destroy Palestinian homes, olive groves, and tunnels without any risk to its operators.[25]

The first modern drone was developed in Israel in 1973, and Israel has gone on to become the single largest exporter of drones in the world,[26, 27] as well as using drones to kill over 800 Palestinians between 2006 and 2011 alone.  Technion developed a program specifically for the research and development of drone technology, and includes in its achievements a weaponized, bomb-carrying “Stealth drone,” and the 9-inch wingspan surveillance “Dragonfly drone.”[28]

Technion has deep relations with two major military companies in Israel; Rafael Advanced Defense Systems which is one of Israel’s largest government-sponsored weapons manufacturers, and Elbit Systems which is one of Israel’s biggest private weapons research companies.

Rafael is famous for its “advanced hybrid armour protection system,” which is used on the IDFs Merkava Mk 4 main battle tank.[29, 30]  Since 2001, Technion has had an MBA program tailored specifically for Rafael managers.[31]

Elbit is one of two main providers of the electronic detection fence, a key component of Israel’s separation Wall in the West Bank, which was ruled illegal by the the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.[32, 33]  Elbit also participated in the design of, and provided surveillance technology for, the US/Mexico border wall.[34, 35, 36]  Numerous agencies have divested from Elbit due to its violation of human rights, including Norway’s Finance Ministry, Denmark’s largest financial institution, and Sweden’s largest pension funds.[37, 38, 39] In contrast, Technion established a center for the development of electro-optics in complete partnership with Elbit.[40]

Furthermore, Technion practices institutional discrimination against Palestinian students by severely restricting their freedom of speech and assembly, and rewarding those Jewish students who, unlike most Palestinians, perform compulsory military service in Israel.[41, 42, 43]

  • How would Technion impact the New York City campus (and beyond)?

It’s worth noting some of the plans outlined for the New York City campus.  According to the Cornell Tech website, instead of traditional departments, programs at the new Cornell Tech campus will be organized around “hubs,” which will allow them to focus on generating technology to serve particular industry sectors.  Another unique aspect of the Cornell Tech program is that every student will have an industry mentor. [44] Technion will formally be involved in the campus through the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute (JTCII) which will be directed by Craig Gotsman, another Technion computer science professor.  The institute will be responsible for a third of the academic activity on campus. The hope is to build an ecosystem like that of Haifa (the Israeli city in which Technion is located), where industry and academics feed off each other.  Their plan is to have “[i]nteraction with industry facilitated through industrial liaisons, who will forge and cultivate relationships between academic staff and the technology sector. These relationships will result in joint projects, sponsored research, and technology transfer from the campus to local industry. Industry mentors, entrepreneurs, and members of the venture capital community will be present on campus to help guide and shape students’ industrial projects, some of which may lead to independent spinoffs.”[45]

This makes it clear that the affect of Cornell Tech would be much more wide-ranging than the confines of the proposed campus itself.  Furthermore, this is the first time an Israeli institute has been involved in building a campus on US soil.  I don’t think we can overstate the significance of Technion’s plans to build in New York City, being as it is a global hub of international business and commerce.

The Acting Consul General of Israel in New York stated “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’s senior executive vice president has said, “The relationships established will make it easier for Israeli entrepreneurs to gain access to US markets.”[46]

  • Academic boycott of Israel

Academic boycott of Israeli institutions is morally justified.  When people ask about academic freedom, we have to ask not only whose freedom, but also why academic freedom should be elevated above basic human rights.  Crucially, the boycott is strategically sound.  Israel actively attempts to cover up its crimes by promoting its academic and technological achievements, and Israeli academic institutes, including Technion, rely on foreign investment.

In 2011, the University of Johannesburg in South Africa became the first to implement academic boycott of Israel when it severed its links with Ben Gurion University, ending a 25-year relationship.[47]  In April of this year, the general membership of the Association for Asian American Studies as well as the Teachers Union of Ireland both unanimously voted to support the boycott of Israeli universities, becoming respectively the first scholarly institution in the United States, and the first academic union in Europe, to do so.[48, 49]  In June, the Federation of French-speaking Students in Belgium, representing some 100,000 students from 25 institutions, voted to “freeze relations with Israeli universities.”[50]

Many world-renowned scholars have come out in favor of the boycott, including in June of this year Professor Stephen Hawking, who courageously boycotted Israel’s Presidential Conference, and about which an editorial in the Boston Globe reported, “The movement that Hawking has signed on to aims to place pressure on Israel through peaceful means.”[51, 52] To see such a statement in a mainstream US broadsheet shows how far things have come. The tide is turning—and these are just a handful of the victories being achieved on campus.

We’re not against education, jobs, science, and progress.  We’re against oppression, apartheid, discrimination, and the destruction of lives and homes. New York City desperately needs jobs and education facilities, but surely these don’t have to come at such a high price.

  • Our campaign / next steps

Our campaign ultimately aims to get New York City and Cornell University to end their collaboration with Technion.  We need your help.  We need to continue to raise awareness, as most people in New York still don’t know the truth about Technion and the impact its presence would have here.  Most people would not support $100 million of their taxes going towards an institute that develops drones and practices discrimination on its home campus.  We may not have the financial resources to stand up to New York City, but we have the truth on our side, and in time, with enough support, we will make a difference.

So how can you help?  There are many ways.  Come and join us at our protests outside Cornell Tech’s temporary offices at Google; we’re there every 2 weeks in Chelsea holding signs, handing out leaflets, and talking with the public.  If you’re concerned about this issue, write a letter to your local paper, your student newsletter, church paper, community blog, or any other group you’re involved with.  Write to your elected officials to see what they have to say about it.  If you’re involved in activism, let your activist friends know about this.  As I hope has been made clear this evening, the issue of Technion coming to New York is of significant interest to anyone concerned about militarization and surveillance as well as Israel/Palestine. Talk with your local community, your mosque, temple, church.  If you would like help with this, get in touch with us or look up the resources on our website, which includes fully referenced reports (we will be adding a transcript of this talk on there soon along with the video recording of this evening’s event).

If you would like to subscribe to our Announcements e-mail list, you can e-mail us at [email protected] asking to be added.  That way we can keep you informed of our protests and other events and news.  You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@NYACTechnion).

We will be outside Google again this semester every other Tuesday from 5:00-7:00 PM until December 10.  Please come and join us!  You are welcome even if you just want to talk to us and find out more about what we’re doing.

Finally, on behalf of NYACT, I would like to thank everyone who has come this evening, and all of the speakers for making this such an interesting event—and to say what an honour it is to be holding the event at Judson Memorial Church which, as I’m sure many of you know, is more than a venue.  The Judson has a long history of working for social justice issues, and we’re glad to have held this discussion here.

REFERENCES:

1.  Anne Ju, “’Game-changing’ tech campus goes to Cornell, Technion,” Cornell Chronicle, 19 Dec 2011: http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2011/12/nyc-chooses-cornell-technion-build-tech-campus

2.  Ilya Marritz, “Mayor Bloomberg Answers Stanford U Critics,” WNYC, 8 May 2012: http://www.wnyc.org/blogs/empire/2012/may/08/mayor-bloomberg-answers-stanford-u-critics/

3.  Richard Pérez-Peña, “Alliance Formed Secretly to Win Deal for Campus,” The New York Times, 25 Dec 2011: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/26/education/in-cornell-deal-for-roosevelt-island-campus-an-unlikely-partnership.html?_r=0

4.  Article XIII, Section 2, of the Cornell bylaws states that: “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”: https://trustees.cornell.edu/docs/012112-cu-bylaws.pdf 

5.  Patrick McGeehan, “Cornell’s High-Tech Campus Will Have a Temporary Home at Google,” The New York Times, 21 May 2012: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/21/cornells-high-tech-campus-will-have-a-temporary-home-at-google/

6.  The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was launched in Ramallah in 2004 by a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals.  For more information see: http://pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=868

7.  “An Appeal for Action: End Cornell University Collaboration with Technion,” PACBI website, 4 March 2012: http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1829

8.  Danna Harman, “The Technion: Israel’s Hard Drive,” The New York Times, 12 April 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/education/edlife/inside-the-technion-israels-premier-technological-institute-and-cornells-global-partner.html?_r=0

9.  The American Technion Society, “Israel’s Source for Anti-Terror and Surveillance Technology: The Technion,” YouTube, uploaded on 3 Dec 2013: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQW5LyKcW9c&list=UUF5SWlnq4m7FknMhzzYb1bA&index=42

10.  The Technion Israel Institute of Technology, Admissions/Careers website: http://www1.technion.ac.il/en/admissions/choose-technion/employment

11.  The Technion Israel Institute of Technology, Computer Science Department Industrial Affiliates website: http://www.cs.technion.ac.il/iap/list.html#CSR

12.  The Technion Israel Institute of Technology, Computer Science Department Industrial Partners website: http://www.million.co.il/Info/Industrial_Partners.shtml

13.  James Bamford, “Shady Companies with Ties to Israel Wiretap the U.S. for the NSA,” WIRED, 3 Apr 2012: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/04/shady-companies-nsa/all/1

14.  Jimmy Johnson, “Israeli Firm Helps NSA Spy on Americans and Mexicans,” The Electronic Intifada, 15 Jun 2013: http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/jimmy-johnson/israeli-firm-helps-nsa-spy-americans-and-mexicans

15.  Gil Kerbs, “The Unit,” Forbes, 8 Feb 2007: http://www.forbes.com/2007/02/07/israel-military-unit-ventures-biz-cx_gk_0208israel.html

16. Terri Ginsberg, “New York tech university evasive about Israeli partner’s role in arms industry,” The Electronic Intifada, 9 Sept 2013: http://electronicintifada.net/content/new-york-tech-university-evasive-about-israeli-partners-role-arms-industry/12753

17.  NICE Systems, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NICE_Systems

18.  NICE Systems, Company Overview website: http://www.nice.com/company-overview

19. Johnson op cit.

20.  Christopher Ketcham, “An Israeli Trojan Horse,” Counterpunch, 27 Sep 2008: http://www.counterpunch.org/2008/09/27/an-israeli-trojan-horse/

21.  TheMarker, “What was the Israeli Involvement in Collecting U.S. Communications Intel for NSA?” Haaretz, 8 Jun 2013: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.528529

22.  Verint Mexico Solutions Communications Research and Intelligence website: http://www.verint.com/microsites/verint_mexico/verint.com/microsite/page2e9a.html?id=108679&aid=362

23.  The American Technion Society, “Alum Rings in Trading Day,” Technion Alumni eNews, 5 Feb 2013: http://www.ats.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=24286.0printer_friendly=1

24.  The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions website: http://www.icahd.org/?page_id=76

25.  Yaakov Katz, “‘Black Thunder’ Unmanned Dozers to Play Greater Role in IDF,” The Jerusalem Post, 30 Mar 2009: http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=137546

26.  Israeli Air Force website, “The First UAV Squadron”: http://www.iaf.org.il/4968-33518-en/IAF.aspx

27.  Jefferson Morley, “Israel’s Drone Dominance,” Salon, 15 May 2012: http://www.salon.com/2012/05/15/israels_drone_dominance/singleton/ 

And figures based on data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) arms transfers database at: http://www.sipri.org/databases/armstransfers

28.  Kevin Hattori, “Stealth UAV, Lunar Elevator Among Student-Developed Projects,” American Technion Society, 24 Feb 2010: http://www.ats.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6455&security=1&news_iv_ctrl=1522

29.  Robert Mahoney, “Israeli Army Decision Endangers Journalists in Gaza,” Committee to Protect Journalists, 14 Aug 2008: http://cpj.org/blog/2008/08/-in-the-gaza-strip.php

30.  Nidal al-Mughrabi, “Reuters Cameraman Killed in Gaza,”Reuters, 16 Apr 2008: http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/04/16/us-palestinians-israel-gaza-reuters-idUSL1632826120080416

31. Technion Press Release, “Technion MBA Program Delivered In-House to 40 Rafael Managers,” 7 Jan 2001: http://pard.technion.ac.il/archives/PressEng.NotActive/Pdf/MBA-eng.pdf

32.  Who Profits – The Israeli Occupation Industry: http://www.whoprofits.org/company/elbit-systems

33.  International Court of Justice Press Release, “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” 9 Jul 2004: http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/index.php?pr=71&code=mwp&p1=3&p2=4&p3=6&ca

34.  Yaakov Katz, “Elbit to help US secure Mexican border,” The Jerusalem Post, 25 Sep 2006: http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Elbit-to-help-US-secure-Mexican-border

35.  Jimmy Johnson, “A Palestine-Mexico Border,” North American Congress on Latin America blog, 29 Jun 2012: http://nacla.org/blog/2012/6/29/palestine-mexico-border

36.  Elbit. WeDivest.org website: https://wedivest.org/c/53/elbit#.Un-36ZTF0eU

37.  Elizabeth Adams, “Norway’s Pension Fund Drops Israel’s Elbit,” The Wall Street Journal online, 3 Sep 2009: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125197496278482849.html

38. “Danske Bank Divests from Elbit and Africa-Israel,” BDS Movement News, 26 Jan 2010: http://www.bdsmovement.net/2010/danske-bank-divests-from-elbit-and-africa-israel-632

39. Benjamin Joffe-Walt, “Swedish Pension Giant Divests from Elbit,” The Jerusalem Post, 31 Mar 2010: http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=172146

40. “Out of Sight,” Technion Focus, Nov 2008: http://www.focus.technion.ac.il/Nov08/technologyTransferStory3.htm

41. Anhel Pfeffer, “New ‘bill of rights’ for student reservists,” Haaretz, 24 Dec 2003: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/new-bill-of-rights-for-student-reservists-1.109580

42.  Uri Dekel (Technion Student Association Chairman, 2009), “Update for Reservists – Suite Of Solutions Following Operation Cast Lead,” Technion Student Union, 21 Jan 2009: http://forums.asat.org.il/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=191840

43.  “Arrest of 8 demonstrators at the entrance of ‘Technion’ Haifa,” Panet, 2 June 2010: http://www.panet.co.il/online/articles/1/2/S-300987,1,2.html

44.  Cornell University College of Engineering, Cornell Tech Update: http://www.engineering.cornell.edu/magazine/features/techupdate.cfm

45.  Cornell NYC Tech website: http://tech.cornell.edu/experience/jtcii/

46.  Julie Wiener, “Israeli School’s ‘Strategic’ Move,” The Jewish Week, 20 Dec 2011: http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/new_york/israeli_schools_strategic_move

47.  Stuart Graham, “UJ Cuts Ties with Israeli University,” Independent Online News, 23 Mar 2011: http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/gauteng/uj-cuts-ties-with-israeli-university-1.1046158#.Un-JOJTF0eV

48.  Elizabeth Redden, “A First for the Israel Boycott?” Inside Higher Ed, 24 Apr 2013: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/04/24/asian-american-studies-association-endorses-boycott-israeli-universities

49.  Adam Horowitz, “Teachers’ Union of Ireland Endorses Academic Boycott of Israel in Unanimous Vote,” Mondoweiss, 5 Apr 2013: http://mondoweiss.net/2013/04/teachers-academic-unanimous.html

50.  “The FEF (Belgian French-Speaking Students Federation) Calls for a Freeze of All Academic Partnerships with Israel!” Comité Palestine Louvain, 25 Apr 2013: http://comite-palestine.be/the-fef-belgian-french-speaking-students-federation-calls-for-a-freeze-of-all-academic-partnerships-with-israel/

51.  Hilary Rose and Steven Rose, “Stephen Hawking’s Boycott Hits Israel Where it Hurts: Science,” The Guardian, 13 May 2013: http://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2013/may/13/stephen-hawking-boycott-israel-science

52.  Editorial, “Stephen Hawking Makes a Peaceful Protest,” The Boston Globe, 11 May 2013: http://www.bostonglobe.com/editorials/2013/05/11/stephen-hawking-makes-peaceful-protest/SFOj07rYY91I7QHUwEnmSL/story.html

About Terri Ginsberg

Terri Ginsberg is a film scholar and Palestine solidarity activist presently based in Cairo. She is co-author of Historical Dictionary of Middle Eastern Cinema (2010), author of Holocaust Film: The Political Aesthetics of Ideology (2007), and co-editor of A Companion to German Cinema (2012). Her book on Palestine solidarity cinema is forthcoming.

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