PACBI: Appeal for Action – End Cornell Collaboration with Technion

 

The Palestinian academic community was deeply disturbed by the recently revealed plan of collaboration between Cornell University and Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.  The two institutions have won a multi-billion-dollar competition held by the City of New York to establish “a 2 million square foot engineering and applied sciences university campus” on Roosevelt Island, NY [1].  Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Cornell University have petitioned the City of New York and Cornell University to end this collaboration with an Israeli institution that is “directly implicated in war crimes [2].”  Similarly, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) has launched an appeal calling on students and faculty to put pressure on their university to withdraw from this troubling partnership [3].

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) would like to join these groups in deploring the collaboration between US higher institutions of learning and Israeli Academic institutions complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and the rights of Palestinians.  In view of our focus this year on academic boycott, we call on US civil society to bring the injustices of this venture to light.  In the first instance, all New York City residents should, rightfully, be outraged that their tax dollars are being apportioned in the service of such an endeavor, and we appeal to them to pressure the City of New York administration to end this collaboration.  Moreover, we ask students, staff, and faculty at institutions around the country, including student groups such as SJP, as well as workers, labor unions, and other civil society organizations in New York City, to mobilize against the administration of Cornell University to end its partnership with Technion.  More importantly, we call on people of conscience to mobilize on the issue of the Cornell-Technion partnership, and academic boycott more broadly, through street protests, educational venues, media presence and other such mobilizations.

Technion Complicity

Technion’s record of complicity in Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights is too long to reproduce here, but here are some highlights:

–    It has a partnership with Elbit Systems, which is one of Israel’s largest private weapons manufacturers.  Elbit manufactured the drones that Israel used in its crimes against civilians in Lebanon 2006 and Gaza 2008-09. This partnership has played a leading role not only in the construction and surveillance of the apartheid wall in Palestine, but also along the U.S.-Mexico border through its subsidiary, Kollsman.

–    Technion trains its engineering students to work with companies dealing “directly in the development of complex weapons in the process of researching their academic theses” [4].  In one example with Elbit Systems, the reward has been the funding of research grants in upwards of half a million dollars to Technion’s students conducting research [5].

–    One of the institute’s most notorious projects resulted in the development of a remote-control function on the Caterpillar’s ‘D9’ bulldozer “used by the Israeli army to demolish Palestinian houses and farms and the development of a method for detecting underground tunnels, specifically developed in order to assist the Israeli army in its continued siege on the Gaza Strip” [6]

–    Technion has deep relations with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, one of Israel’s largest government-sponsored weapons manufacturers famous for its “advanced hybrid armor protection system” used in Israel’s Merkava tanks [7]. The institute has developed an “MBA program tailored specifically for Rafael managers” which further solidifies its relationship between academia and Israel’s military-industrial complex [8].

–    Technion rewards its students who perform their compulsory military service.  It also granted Israeli army reservists who participated in the Israeli massacre of Gaza in 2008-2009 “academic benefits in addition to the usual benefits for reservists” [9].

Why Academic Boycott?

In 2004, Palestinian civil society called for an academic boycott in the spirit of the South African anti-apartheid movement.  In our statement, we have maintained that a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is necessary due to the complicity of these institutions in the system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights guaranteed by international law.

In our 2004 call we stated that the academic boycott

is in line with the authoritative call by the Palestinian Council for Higher Education (CHE) for “non-cooperation in the scientific and technical fields between Palestinian and Israeli universities.” Academic institutions in particular are part of the ideological and institutional scaffolding of the Zionist settler-colonial project in Palestine, and as such are deeply implicated in maintaining the structures of domination and oppression over the Palestinian people. Since its founding, the Israeli academy has cast its lot with the hegemonic political-military establishment in Israel, and notwithstanding the efforts of a handful of principled academics, is deeply implicated in supporting and perpetuating the status quo. [10]

While it is common to think of universities as ivory towers separate from society, this view ignores the deep roots of the academy in society, and in shaping our knowledge of the world.  Universities influence political power, shape future generations, and structure the moral and ideological underpinnings of our societies.  In the case of Israel, the academy gives the state a veneer of being liberal, tolerant, and just.  This is an image that serves to combat and whitewash the state’s ongoing occupation, colonialism and apartheid.

Why Israeli Institutions?

In response to a call for academic boycott of Israel, one might respond that US academic institutions collaborate with other academic institutions around the world, as well as with their own government that is involved in human rights abuses, war and occupation.  This argument is often used as a red herring to distract activists, and as an attempt to delegitimize the movement.  However, it is critical for us to recognize this as a legitimate concern when it comes from truly conscientious activists and observers, and from people who are invested in advancing ethical forms of resistance against all kinds of oppression.

The above argument can be broken into three parts.  First, we must recognize the voice of Palestinians who suffer under Israel’s intricate multi-tiered system of oppression.  In this sense, an important element is the call by an overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society for an international boycott of Israel that is embodied in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.  In the 70s and 80s, no ethically minded person would have screamed that the anti-apartheid movement was hypocritical for asking for the boycott of South Africa and not, say, Israel, the U.S. or the Soviet Union.  Thus, it rings hollow and suspicious when people question Palestinians and international solidarity activists for applying the boycott to Israel but not other places.  The BDS movement is explicit in its solidarity with oppressed people around the world fighting against all forms of oppression.  It similarly calls on others to stand with Palestinians in their time of resistance.

Second, we are keenly aware that US academic institutions partner with other foreign academic institutions.  To the extent that these foreign institutions are complicit in their governments’ abuses of international law and human rights, in ways similar to the complicity of Israeli academic institutions, then we also condemn such partnerships.  We doubt, however, that there are, as of yet, any joint ventures within US borders between Saudi Arabian academic institutions, for example, and a US institution.  It is no coincidence that Israeli institutions enjoy greater access to US academic networks, including the funding that these networks enable.  This is what makes the tactic of boycott crucial, effective, and urgent when applied to Israel.  We also stress again that Israel’s atrocious violations of international law remain violations even if there are other countries that commit the same.

This leads to our third argument, where it should not be denied that academic institutions in the US collaborate with their own government, arguably the world’s leading and most violent violator of human rights, if we take Iraq and Afghanistan as case studies.  We believe these partnerships should end, and a campaign against Cornell-Technion should strive to raise awareness on US academic complicity, inviting various sectors of local communities to share their experiences and build mutual solidarities.  However, this should not prevent a serious and legitimate call to boycott collaborations with Israeli institutions.  The herculean task of disengaging US academia from the US military industrial complex should not deter or demobilize activists from a call to boycott Israel and its complicit institutions.  Did any morally conscientious person call on US academia to boycott its government before boycotting the apartheid South African regime?  Could American university administrations, morally speaking, argue against the boycott of apartheid South Africa, simply because their own institutions were developing technology for the US government?  We hardly think so.  We cannot defer the rights of people around the world as we wait for the US superpower to clean its house.  However, we must also not hold back from our collective struggles against the abuses of the US government.

In this way, we, at PACBI, along with our coalition partners in Palestinian civil society wish to express our solidarity with oppressed segments of US civil society, and ask that you hear our call and put pressure on your academic institutions and city councils to boycott apartheid Israel.  This is what we ask for in our struggle for freedom, justice and equality.

Notes:
[1] http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/new-york-host-israels-top-drone-lab
[2] http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/in-opposition-to-cornell-universitys/ 
[3] http://www.usacbi.org/2011/12/open-letter-to-cornell-university-dont-collaborate-with-apartheid/ 
[4] Uri Yacobi Keller, The Economy of the Occupation: A Socioeconomic Bulletin. (Jerusalem: Alternative Information Center, 2009), 10. http://usacbi.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/economy_of_the_occupation_23-24.pdf.
[5] ibid, 10-11
[6] ibid, 9
[7] “Structures of Oppression: Why McGill and Concordia Universities Must Sever their Links with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology,” 4. http://www.tadamon.ca/wp-content/uploads/Technion-English.pdf 
[8] Ibid., 3-4
[9] Keller, 12-13 (see link above)
[10] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1108

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