Technion, incubator of the student-soldier elite

|Ivar Ekeland, Ahmed Abbes |Tribunes

A slightly modified version of this article was published on the site Orient XXI.

Here is how P. Lavie, President of Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, expressed himself in an editorial in August 2014 :

This summer, Israel is again compelled to defend itself against a barrage of missile attacks aimed at civilian populations. Once again, the Iron Dome defensive anti-missile system saves countless civilian lives. Iron Dome was developed by the excellent engineers at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, most of whom are Technion graduates. In addition, a vast underground network of terror tunnels, many of them directly threatening unarmed Israeli children, women and men, was revealed and had to be neutralized. In this arena also, Technion scientists are helping lead the effort to harness scientific innovation to thwart this threat.”

The martial tone of the text shows clearly how participation in the war of occupation by Israeli universities — the Technion in particular — has the effect of blurring the distinction between civil and armed society, and of destroying the possibility of a negotiated peace in the Middle East. The triumph of the concept of the student soldier only exacerbates the double split in Israeli society — the internal split between Jews and non-Jews, and the external split between Israel and its geopolitical surroundings, including, of course, occupied Palestine.

The Technion Polytechnical Institute was originally a public research university, founded in Haifa in 1912 under the Ottoman Empire. At present this institution has slightly over 13000 students. The institution could and should have been a sanctuary for the universal values of science, by functioning as a university of excellence, open to all students now living in the 1948 territory of Palestine. However, the university did not escape the nationalist groundswell that has characterized Israeli society over the past decades. In many respects it is even the technological spearhead of this tendency. In fact, the Technion’s ideals no longer have much to do with those of an ordinary university. Its militarization is already visible in its composition : the Technion is the Israeli university with the highest proportion of soldiers — past or present, active or reservists — among its students and faculty. A. Ludwick and G. Goldberg, presidents of Technion Canada (one of the world’s many organizations promoting Technion), have even claimed that, among Israeli universities, Technion is where one finds the highest percentage of student reservists who belong "both to the academic elite and to the military elite" of the Israel Defense Force (IDF). [1] It’s hardly necessary to add that, for its authors, such a claim is by no means disturbing. Moreover, it’s hardly an isolated case : one finds similar claims whenever Technion intersects civil society. During the Israeli military operation "Protective Edge," which caused the deaths of 2200 Palestinians (two thirds of them civilians), Technion raised more than $500,000 for its 600-odd students who were fighting in Gaza that year. [2].

Not only the private sector is supporting the student-soldier. At the most official level of Israeli law there has been an increasing body of legislation to offer academic benefits to young people who have served in the army. One of the most recent (2010) is amendment number 12 to the law on reintegration of demobilized soldiers, which stipulates that, provided they live in a "national priority zone," they are entitled to a "compensation package." The benefits include, among others, a contribution to their university registration fees, a free introductory year, and university housing. Some organizations for the defense of the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel have pointed out that, since for obvious reasons, such citizens do not perform military service, they are automatically excluded from these benefits and thus "disadvantaged." [3]. The problem is both more serious and more general : by participating in the surveillance of the Occupied Territories as well as the recurrent punitive operations conducted there, Israeli universities themselves are in practice guilty of complicity in war crimes. [4]. On the ideological front, the university is an important contributing factor to the harmful current status quo, preserving the fiction of an endangered State, protected from the "barrage of missile attacks" (!) by the ingenuity of doughty student-soldiers.

Is the Technion the pyromaniac firefighter of the moribund "peace process ?" There’s no shortage of evidence. Technion has tight relations with Elbit Systems, Israel’s most important producer of weapons and drones. In 2008, Elbit officially offered grants to students and researchers from Technion’s electrical engineering department totalling $500000 a year for five years [5]. Y. Ackerman, Elbit’s emblematic president from 1996 to 2013, was awarded an honorary doctorate by Technion, while H. Russo, who directed a branch of Elbit specialized in military equipment, was named to Technion’s board of directors [6]. A joint Technion-Elbit laboratory devoted to artificial vision [7] is perfecting the technologies used in drones, in the surveillance of the so-called Separation Wall in occupied Palestinian territory and in the settlements — all of this naturally totally illegal from the standpoint of international law [8]. The same remarks could be made with regard to the links between Technion and the state conglomerate Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd, one of the largest arms manufacturers in Israel : there’s the same interpenetration of structures, the same movement of individuals between the university and the corporation, and the same influence of military choices on the orientation of research. The colossal number of former Technion students working at Rafael [9] and the existence of an MBA specifically designed by Technion for Rafael’s managers [10] bear witness to this interpenetration. Finally, in 2013 Rafael announced a plan to hire 150 Technion students to direct research on the weapons of the future. These students will divide their study time between Rafael and Technion [11].

This interpenetration is not simply a matter of course offerings or organization flow charts. To paraphrase a familiar quotation, what’s good for Technion is good for Israel, identified with its military-industrial complex. War provides an inexhaustible source of homework exercises. In a 2009 promotional communiqué that certain strategists — in public relations for once — were prudent enough to remove quckly from the web (but that you can still find with the help of web.archiv [12]) you can read "in the very near future, the IDF will begin to use a remote controlled D-9 bulldozer, perfected in recent years by Technion experts. This bulldozer will work in conjunction with a remote-controlled unmanned Hummer jeep, also perfected by the Technion." The communiqué adds that, according to military specialists, "this innovative development will make it possible to control the bulldozer remotely under fire by a pilot who remains out of reach. At present, bulldozer drivers run serious risks when they demolish buildings where terrorists are hiding or when they attempt to open roads." One knows the reality concealed by the phraseology : 25000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed since 1967, also in complete violation of international law [13].

As is the case with all the Israeli institutions involved in international partnerships — most recently, for example, with the École polytechnique [14] – Technion, under pressure from the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign (BDS), is a master at using double language. In its promotional materials for the international market, the Technion boasts of its openness, its green lawns and its relaxed students, and indeed of a non-negligeable proportion (by national standards) of Palestinian Israeli citizens among its students. In its internal functioning, in contrast, Technion uses its participation in current war crimes as a source of external financing and research projects, and as a testing ground that provides the opportunity to export Israeli military know-how to more than 70 countries in the world [15], as well as for a galvanizing discourse worthy of the most perfect totalitarian regimes. For all these reasons, and returning to the declaration of its President quoted above, Technion — its professors, researchers, and students — have become essential components of a cruel Israeli policy that justify an increasing number of international calls for an academic boycott [16].

Ahmed Abbes, Directeur de recherche au CNRS

Ivar Ekeland, Ancien président de l’université Paris-Dauphine, Ancien président du conseil scientifique de l’École normale supérieure.

[1The Scope, Newsletter of the Canadian Technion Society, Summer 2006.

[2Technion communiqué of 3 September 2014 published on its Facebook page.

[3See the website of Adalah - the The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

[4Internationl law considers that the provision of arms and material to the perpetrator of a war crime or of a crime against humanity amounts to aiding and abetting the crime, and thus makes the provider criminally liable as an accomplice (art. 25§ 3 and 30 of the statutes of the International Criminal Court ; Special tribunal for Sierra Leone, findings of March 16 2006, §40 and April 26 2012, §149).

[6Academic Boycott of Israel and the Complicity of Israeli Academic Institutions in Occupation of Palestinian Territories”, by Uri Yacobi Keller, The Alternative Information Center (AIC), octobre 2009.

[8In 2004, The International Court of Justice declared the wall as well as the settlements to be violations of international law. Both give rise to discrimination against the Palestinians that are similar to apartheid.

[9In 2011, of Rafael’s 6500 employees, 2000 are Technion alumni ; and there were also 350 current students.

[10Technion Communiqué dated January 7, 2001 : “Technion MBA Program Delivered In-House to 40 Rafael Managers”.

[11Rafael hiring 150 Technion students”, Yuval Azulai, January 1, 2013, Israel Global Arena.

[12Technion Communiqué, October 21, 2003 « Remote control in the service of the IDF : Technion experts develop remote control for driverless D-9 bulldozer and Hummer Jeep ».

[13The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibits collective punishment and discrimination against the civilian population by the occupying power.

[14A petition against the agreement between the École polytechnique and Technion in 2013, launched last month by the Association of Academics for the Respect for International Law in Palestine (AURDIP) collected more than 600 signatures in two weeks, for the most part among French academics, including researchers and university professors, as well as present and former students of the École polytechnique.

[15Israeli drone conference features weapons used to kill Gaza’s children”, Rania Khalek, The Electronic Intifada, 18 September 2014.

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