Ekeland: In its new agreement with the Technion, the École Polytechnique maintains its disregard for international law and ethics

|Ivar Ekeland

Economic policy has rarely been so ineffectual. Unemployment continues to rise, poverty and precarity likewise, social fractures grow. Meanwhile the budget deficit, in whose name so much has been sacrificed for so many years, refuses to shrink. Arms sales are the only healthy side of the economy : France is selling combat aircraft to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar, and two brand new warships are available at a discount to a willing customer.

This is the context of the visit by our Minister of Economy to Israel. On that occasion, he alluded to a two-century old military episode : the siege of Acre by Napoleon’s troops, pursuing the old dream of the West, to subjugate the barbarians by military force and reconstruct the empire of Alexander the Great. Three months later, this inglorious episode was cut short by the secret departure of General Bonaparte to deal with Parisian matters, abandoning his troops and his dreams in Egypt. The lesson was not learned : for our government, as for the government of Israel, military supremacy confers all rights and solves all problems.

During the Minister’s trip, a new cooperation agreement was signed between Technion and the École Polytechnique, which was represented by its president Jacques Biot. The Technion has been (and still is) at the cutting edge of innovation and experimentation in military technology. For example, the Technion designed and developed military drones, guaranteeing that Israel, along with the USA, is the indisputable leader in this area. This success is not solely due to the qualifications of Technion’s engineers, nor to the Israeli government’s support for military programs ; the Technion also has a considerable advantage relative to its foreign competitors : all of their arms have been tested in the field. Surveillance drones and assassination drones are constantly flying over Gaza, creating a constant hum that terrorizes the population and traumatizes children, and they have been used so frequently that they can now be considered fully developed. Neither the ethical problems connected with the use of such weapons nor their long-term implications for our society is the business of the engineers ; their job is to improve them, for example by miniaturizing drones so that they can enter homes and be present at family meals.

The École Polytechnique and the Technion are already linked by two programs for students and researchers. The new agreement proposes to extend cooperation to incubators : the accelerated startups in each of the institutions will benefit from the network of the other — personnel dedicated to innovation and entrepreneurship, potential partners and investors, legal and marketing contacts — and the entrepreneurs at one institution can stay for up to six weeks at the other one. The techniques that the Technion already has in hand and is seeking to commercialize include detection of tunnel digging (CIV-1108), identity verification in cyberspace (COM-1508), and automatic control of drone squadrons (MAE-0791). There is no doubt that enterprising polytechnicians will undertake to bring these products to the French market.

The goal of this research, on the Technion’s side, is obviously to contribute to supporting the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. They raise very serious ethical questions, and those who collaborate with this work expose themselves to a no less legal risk : complicity in war crimes. It is a war crime to displace conquered populations and install settlers in their place ; it is a war crime to carry out executions without trial, even at a distance and by means of a drone. The Israeli army does this sort of thing every day, and is only able to do so thanks to the military technology and means of surveillance developed at the Technion. In itsletter of December 2013 to the Director General of the École Polytechnique, AURDIP had provided a detailed description of the activities of Technion and its links with the military-industrial complex, and brought to the school’s attention the legal risk its students incurred by cooperating with this institution [1]. The letter, to which there was no reply, was followed one year later by a petition, signed by more than 600 academics, including teachers and students of the École Polytechnique, in protest against existing agreements.

The new agreement only makes the situation worse and increases the risks. Polytechnicians will be directly subject to the influence of the Israeli military-industrial complex, and will learn that the only law that matters is the law of the stronger, as long as its superiority lasts. This attitude is undoubtedly appropriate for an apartheid society, but it is not for a country whose motto is Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Without concerning ourselves with such elevated questions, we simply note that Technion’s start-ups, in view of what they do, are highly likely to carry out their activities in settlements or in Palestinian territory, and this is strictly forbidden by the European Union. French start-ups that take part in this kind of collaboration will thus find themselves on the wrong side of the law, as well as facing a loss of reputation, given the extent of public disapproval of Israeli policies around the world. Here I am not referring to the BDS movement, but rather to the simple ethical concerns that have led major investment funds, like the Norwegian sovereign fund, to divest from Israeli corporations like Elbit ; and to public opinion, that has placed very large corporations like Veolia or Orange on the defensive.

We call on our university colleagues — first of all those at the École Polytechnique, as well as students and personnel, to mobilize for the revocation of these agreements. Any scientist with a concern for international law is likely sooner or later to be forced to break all links with the École Polytechnique as long as this relation with Technion continues.

Ivar Ekeland
Président de l’AURDIP,
ancien président de l’Université Paris-Dauphine,
ancien président du Conseil scientifique de l’École normale supérieure

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