Cornell partnership with military-linked Israeli school greeted by protests on first day of class

Alex Kane | Mondoweiss | 23 January 2013 | Palestine solidarity activists greeted the first day of classes for students attending Cornell NYC Tech with leafleting, signs and petitions against….

Alex Kane | Mondoweiss | 23 January 2013 |

Palestine solidarity activists greeted the first day of classes for students attending Cornell NYC Tech with leafleting, signs and petitions against the school, a massive collaboration between Ivy League Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. About 25 demonstrators braved the biting cold to send a message to Cornell and the city: that they should cut off their links with Technion due to their involvement in making Israeli weaponry used on Palestinian civilians.

The action was called by New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT), a new group formed to organize against the collaboration between Google, which is providing free space to the school until the real campus is built, the city of New York, Cornell and Technion. Activists from a variety of groups involved in Palestine solidarity in the city, including Brooklyn for Peace and Adalah-NY, also showed up to voice their displeasure at the partnership. And many activists noted that the first day of classes for a partnership that includes a university with deep ties to the Israeli military was held on Martin Luther King day.

The protesters gathered at 8th Ave and 15th street in Manhattan, right outside the offices of Google, where the students went to attend classes. But only eight students are enrolled this semester, according to the New York Times, which perhaps answers the question that activists had yesterday: where were the students?

Regardless, even if the activists didn’t manage to reach out to students attending the school, they did manage to pass out leaflets to New Yorkers and obtained signatures on a petition against the partnership. The petition demands that the city end their role in the partnership, which includes $100 million in taxpayer funds and real estate space on Roosevelt Island, where the campus is slated to built by 2017.

“Technion is heavily involved with aspects of Israeli state policy. They work hand in hand with the weapons industries in Israel,” said Anna Calcutt, an activist with NYACT. “They’re the worst of the worst–and are particularly repulsive.”

Calcutt was passing out leaflets that spoke to her point: Technion helps to produce weapons and surveillance equipment for the Israeli army, including drones; academics from the school have formulated plans for the Israeli Jewish takeover of the Galilee; the institution works closely with Rafael Advanced Systems and Elbit Systems, two companies that provide the Israeli military with crucial equipment to maintain the occupation; and Technion gives special treatment to Israeli soldiers while discriminating against Palestinian students.

“For decades, the Technion has provided the brains Israel required to create the elaborate mechanism of control under-girding its occupation of Palestine,” noted journalist Max Blumenthal back when the partnership was first announced. “Through its partnership with Israel’s burgeoning arms industry, Technion’s creations have been imported to armed forces around the world. In the words of Israeli researcher Shir Hever, the Technion ‘has all but enlisted itself in the military.’”

A few members of Cornell’s Students for Justice in Palestine group also demonstrated at the protest. “I feel obligated to protest when my university does something like this,” noted Paul Flaig, a Cornell student. “It is a flashpoint issue because it is in the U.S. and Technion’s ties to the Israeli occupation are clear.”

The Cornell-Technion partnership grew out of the Bloomberg administration’s plans to build a new, high-tech graduate school for applied sciences. While a number of schools put in bids to get their hands on Bloomberg’s prize, it was the partnership, forged in secret, between Cornell and Technion that did the trick. The Cornell-Technion partnership’s bid to win the Bloomberg administration’s contest was buoyed by a $350 million gift from Cornell alumnus Charles Feeney, a philanthropist.

It also doesn’t hurt to have members of the New York City Council behind the deal. In February 2012, about a dozen Democratic Party members of the council went on a delegation to Israel organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council. The Jewish Week reported that “the 10-day trip [included] a visit to the Technion, the science institute that will partner with Cornell University to create a new applied sciences campus on Roosevelt Island.”

That the Cornell-Technion partnership is cemented is a “blow” to supporters of Palestinian rights in the U.S., as Max Ajl, an SJP member at Cornell and a sometime contributor to this site, put it to Mondoweiss in an interview when the partnership was first announced. “It should almost be a wake-up call for some people. This is a huge institutional partnership and it’s with a primary target of BDS, a weapons producer, and clearly the Cornell administration is totally comfortable with making a partnership with an Israeli educational institution that produces the weapons to kill people,” said Ajl, a PhD student at Cornell and a contributing editor to Jacobin magazine. “What does that say about where we are? It says we have a ways to go here in America.”

There are also local issues that activists have raised to try to gin up opposition to the deal. When the campus is built on Roosevelt Island, a quiet space of land between Queens and Manhattan only accessible by tram, it will displace a hospital. Activists with NYACT have gone to meetings about the plans for the campus on Roosevelt Island to try and educate residents about the problematic nature of the partnership. And while activists acknowledge that it is pretty much a done deal, they plan to continue to organize against the school.

“We want to stop this, though it may be impossible. But it is a good public education opportunity,” said Terri Ginsberg, a member of NYACT (and also a contributor to this site).

Another local issue is that academics at Cornell have complained that it the deal was made out of public view, with no transparency. At an event on the partnership at Cornell in March 2012, “panelists challenged the University’s decision-making process, claiming its partnership with the Technion was cemented before administrators sought input from the faculty,” the Cornell student newspaper reported. “There was no debate in the deliberative bodies of the faculty before those decisions were made,” Prof. Eric Cheyfitz said at the panel.

Despite the fact that Technion is likely here to stay, activists plan to forge ahead in their opposition, noting that the full campus won’t be built for another four years. A press release from NYACT announced that “NYACT and supporters will host a regular leafleting vigil every other Tuesday starting January 29th, from 5-7pm, at the Google offices.”