Israel’s first major arms-developing educational institution on US soil recently received the green light.
New York City Council has approved a lease for Cornell University to build a major applied sciences and engineering campus in partnership with the Haifa-based Israel Institute of Technology (better known as the Technion). The 2.1-million-square-foot, taxpayer-funded project is to be located on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, a strip of largely residential land between Manhattan and Queens.
According to a report in the local media, approval of the lease for the project — known as Cornell NYC Tech — was pushed through by the New York City Council in July.
This occurred despite opposition from many inhabitants of Roosevelt Island, who had expressed concerns about the vagueness of clauses in the lease regarding who would be responsible for any damage caused during the construction period, which is expected to last 25 years (“Cornell clears borough board after community coalition loses bid to change of delay lease,” The Wire, 3 August 2013).
Silicon Valley in the Big Apple?
Like the lease, publicity for the new campus is replete with vague messaging. Although the ostensible goal of the project is to create a Silicon Valley-like hub in New York City, the precise nature of the technology it aims to develop has not be spelled out (“Building a better tech school,” The New York Times, 12 April 2013).
A closer look at the corporations affiliated with Technion, some of which have expressed interest in this entrepreneurial venture, indicates that the project’s aims may be more sinister. These corporations have developed weapons and surveillance technology used by Israel to deny Palestinians their fundamental human rights.
The Technion, it should be stressed, has a history of cooperating with Israel’s arms industry and of helping to develop a bulldozer designed specifically for use in demolishing Palestinian homes.
The Israeli company Verint Systems — a manufacturer of surveillance technology — is a strong supporter of Cornell NYC Tech. Verint was founded in 1994 by Dan Bodner, a Technion graduate, and is now headquartered in Melville, New York.
Bodner was present at the annual Israel Day in the New York Stock Exchange in November last year. There, he boasted, “The Cornell-Technion partnership can do for New York what Stanford University does for the Silicon Valley and MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] does for Boston … Successful technology companies depend on three ingredients: access to engineering talent, access to capital, and proximity to users.
“New York has two of those ingredients. The partnership will help establish the third — attract talented engineers and entrepreneurs to NYC,” he added (“Alum rings in trading day,” American Technion Society, 5 February 2013).
In February of this year, Verint acquired Comverse Technology, another company founded in Israel. Counting the US Department of Defense and chain-stores like Target and Home Depot among its clients, Comverse has developed “security” systems used to direct airborne drones, monitor the Internet and record telephone calls.
Comverse is listed as an “industrial partner” on the website of the Technion’s computer science department. Other “partners” include IBM, Cisco and Qualcomm.
Technion is also affiliated with NICE, an Israel-based company that has developed surveillance systems bought by the New York City Police Department. The New York Civil Liberties Union has complained that there is no independent monitoring of how the police uses such equipment (“NYPD expands surveillance net to fight crime as well as terrorism,” Reuters, 21 June 2013).
At a meeting held with New York residents in July 2012, Cornell’s attorney Melanie Meyers would not respond to a question about why the university was cooperating with an Israeli institute complicit in war crimes and ethnic cleansing.
This refusal to address issues of human rights and international law speaks volumes about the real aims of Cornell NYC Tech. There can be little doubt that this is an attempt to bolster Israeli apartheid disingenuously disguised as an economically and civically useful educational initiative.
Terri Ginsberg is a film scholar and Palestine solidarity activist based in New York City. Her publications include Historical Dictionary of Middle Eastern Cinema and special issues of the International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies and Arab Studies Quarterly. Her essay about the blacklisting of Vanessa Redgrave will appear shortly on the remastered Blu-ray of Playing for Time.