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January 20, 2012

An "historic partnership" with the devil

Professor Lawrence Davidson

More by this author...

Part I - New York City

The announcement came from the mayor’s office of New York City (NYC) on 19 December 2011 in the form of an eleven-page declaration. It begins "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Cornell University President David J. Skorton, and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology President Peretz Lavie today announced an historic partnership to build a two-million-square-foot applied science and engineering campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City." This is the result of an Applied Sciences Competition that drew at least seven competitors from around the world.

Good news? Well, NYC officials certainly think so: "Thanks to this outstanding partnership...New York City’s goal of becoming a global leader in technological innovation is now within sight." And all it will cost the city is some public land on Roosevelt Island and "$100 million in city capital to assist with site infrastructure." Oh yes, and written in invisible ink, ‘the forfeiture of one municipal soul." That is the catch. What we have here is a three-way pact with the Devil. There is New York City and....

Part II - Cornell University

Cornell University is a 147-year-old elite institution located in Ithaca New York. According to the announcement cited above it is "a global leader in the fields of applied science, engineering technology, and research, as well as commercialization and entrepreneurship." Just what NYC was looking for.

Cornell is led by David J. Skorton, a former professor of medicine and a proven college administrator. He has been the university’s president since 2006. Among other things, president Skorton presents himself as an ethical leader. Back in 2009 he tried to demonstrate this status when, in response to Israel’s attack on Gaza, he called attention to the fact that he had led the fight to have Cornell divest...from where? From Sudan because of the Darfur crisis.

If you think that logic and consistency should have led Skorton to call for similar action to divest from Israel due to the war crimes committed in Gaza you would be disappointed. He claimed such action would be inappropriate because the case of Darfur "has been one of unilateral violence, whereas, sadly, the situation in and near Israel has been characterized...violent acts by both sides."

Just as sadly, Skorton’s comparison was inaccurate. The Darfur tragedy is the product of an on-going separatist revolt against the central government in Khartoum. Sudan’s central government has reacted to this with excessive force that has led to the destruction of much of the life and culture of the Darfur region. The Gaza tragedy, and indeed the entire Palestinian-Israeli conflict, began with Palestinian resistance to Zionist colonization and subsequent oppressive Israeli policies. The Israelis have reacted to on-going resistance with the excessive use of force that has destroyed much of the life and culture in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. They are not as different as Skorton made them out to be.

Perhaps president Skorton was unaware of these comparative facts when he took his public stand. However, even if he were aware of them his behavior would likely have been the same. For Skorton is certainly pro-Israel. Only such a position could have allowed him to lead his university, which he has called "a national leader in research ethics" into an "historic partnership" with the Devil.

Part III - Israel’s Technion

The Devil in this case is the Israel Institute of Technology, or the Technion for short.

The Technion describes itself this way "A science and technology research university, among the world’s top ten, dedicated to the creation of knowledge and the development of human capital and leadership, for the advancement of the State of Israel and all humanity." This would be quite impressive if weren’t for the fact that the last nine words are a contradiction. The Technion is knee deep in blood, mostly Palestinian.

In April of 2011 a report entitled Technion: Structures of Oppression was published by Tadamon, "a Montreal based collective which works in solidarity with struggles for self-determination...." What it shows is that a good part of Technion’s work is linked to weapons development for the Israeli military. Technion faculty and students are involved in helping develop combat and surveillance drones and medium range missiles, both of which have been used against Gaza civilians.

Then there are the spy cameras perched on Israel’s illegal Apartheid Wall. Technion had a hand in developing those too. Technion also has accelerated academic programs for Israeli government scientists and engineers while discriminating against Palestinian students and applicants. This then is the institution that Cornell University, a "leader in research ethics" allied with in order to win the NYC contract. Is President Skorton trying to be the Odysseus of modern Ithaca? Claiming righteousness for his institution and himself while dealing with the Devil? It won’t work. We are best known by the friends we keep.

Both Technion and Israeli government officials were clearly elated about their victory in the NYC Applied Sciences Competition. Israel’s NYC Consul, Ido Aharoni said that "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 president Peretz Lavie was just as effusive, "together we have the means, ingenuity and willpower to make our world a better place by joining with Cornell University and the great people of New York City for this innovative new center of learning and enterprise." I am sure the Palestinians are not impressed.

Part IV - Choosing Not To See

Why did the Cornell-Technion alliance get the job? Among the reasons are the following:

1. Elements within the Bloomberg administration were clearly impressed with Technion. They see the Israeli institution as "a winner of Nobel Prizes and incubator of high-tech businesses" and therefore it was "one of the few overseas institutions the city explicitly invited to participate." So city leaders went out of their way to invite the Israelis into the competition.

2. Cornell University’s successful acquisition of a $350 million gift to be dedicated to the NYC project. This came from Charles F. Feeney, a billionaire philanthropist and benefactor of Cornell University who gives money for, among other things, projects involving health programs, children, population issues and "human rights." His gift meant that the Cornell-Technion alliance came to the table with their venture capital in pocket.

3. And, perhaps, the Bloomberg administration people were just carried away by all the Cornell-Technion talk of making the city the equivalent of high-tech nirvana. The mayor declared that "of all the applications we received, Cornell and the Technion was far and away the boldest and most ambitious....It will position the city as a leader in an array of applied science fields, create the jobs of the future," and generate millions of dollars the city. Deputy mayor Robert Steel agreed. This is going to result in an "economic renaissance" for New York City.

Throughout this story certain words and phrases keep popping up:

1. President Skorton’s "ethical" standing.

2. Cornell University’s position as "a national leader in research ethics."

3. Technion’s claim to be working for the "advancement...of all humanity."

4. Charles Feeney’s interest in supporting "human rights."

5. Mayor Bloomberg’s determination to "create the jobs of the future."

All of this, of course, is based on a willful decision not to take notice of what the Israel Institute of Technology does. Technion is part and parcel of a racist, apartheid educational system, it helps produce weapons and devices that both kill and maim civilians and assists in ghettoizing an entire population. What ethical person or institution would want to partner with such an organization? Only those who choose not to see. Only those who "have no moral compass" and are therefore, according to Mayor Bloomberg, "losers."

The three participants in this "historic partnership" can carry on in this hypocritical fashion all they want. What they can’t do is ask those who catch them at it to keep quiet. Hopefully the word will spread that they have sold their institutional souls for a bit of gold and fame. Hopefully soon protesters will show up, at least in New York City and Ithaca, to tell the public just what sort of deal with the Devil has been entered into. Hopefully, these "leaders" will be made to feel as publically uncomfortable as possible.

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