Author and journalist Max Blumenthal discussed his new book this past Thursday before a crowd of about 100 people that turned out to hear him talk at the Brooklyn Friends meeting house. His heavily researched tome, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, focuses on the dystopia that is Israel and Palestine, providing first-hand accounts of the sheer skewing that Zionism has brought to the shores of Palestine.
Sharing stories from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Blumenthal wrapped up his talk by weighing in on the partnership between Cornell University and the Israel Institute of Technology, also known as Technion. The two universities are collaborating along with the City to build the Cornell NYC Tech campus on the south end of Roosevelt Island
Nestled in the shadow of the 59th Street Bridge between Manhattan and Queens, Roosevelt Island is a narrow, two-mile long strip of land located in the middle of the East River. Construction on the Cornell NYC Tech campus will open its doors to Cornell NYC Tech in 2017. The influx of students is certain to cause a stir on the island: the population will drastically increase, a shift in demographics will occur, gentrification seems inevitable.
However, a larger issue looms – the nature of the partnership itself due to Technion’s track record as a key player in Israel's own homegrown military indusrial complex. According to its own website, Technion developed “early warning systems against air attacks as well as weapons for the Hagannah,” a right-wing Jewish militia that plundered Palestinian villages until Israel was granted independence in 1948. The Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer, remote-controlled and equipped with armor, is any Palestinian homeowner’s worst nightmare. Notorious for the eviction of thousands, this wrecking machine was the brainchild of Technion students who provided the research and development for this project.
Technion has also been instrumental in the development of drone aircraft that are used for surveillance and for combat and has helped Israel to become the largest exporter of drones in the world.
“This kind of technology … makes the occupation more manageable and more possible," Blumenthal noted.
Technion also works in tandem with two of Israel’s largest weapons manufacturers: Rafael Advanced Systems, which created the forcefield-armor technology that protects the IDF’s most lethal tank, the Merkava MK4; and Elbit Systems, with whom Technion teamed up with to open a center for the development of electro-optics in 2008.
When the Cornell NYC Tech campus opens, the two universities will have company. “The proposed academic site on Roosevelt Island will include space for private companies,” said Terri Ginsberg, a member of New Yorkers Against Cornell-Technion (NYACT) who attended Blumenthal's talk. “Technion has close links with some very problematic corporations: Verint, Check Point, and NICE systems. [These] are three of Israel’s largest high-tech companies [and] each uses a version of technology developed by Israel’s version of the NSA, which specializes in the surveillance of Palestinian telephone and internet traffic.”
Ginsberg stressed that “NYACT's concerns are not – and should not be understood or categorized as – a ‘Jewish Issue’.” The only problem she adds is that “Technion is an unjustly discriminatory institution giving special treatment to Israel soldiers while giving unequal treatment to Palestinian students and stifling political dissent, especially regarding Palestinian rights.”
Finally, Ginsberg argued that “Technion's role in the Cornell-Technion Partnership does not bode well for New York City or beyond,” and Blumenthal agreed, taking the analysis even further.
“In our own backyard,” Blumenthal said, “we find [that] Roosevelt Island – one of the key institutions to evolve from this process of occupation and dispossession – is going to erect a leading institution…between Cornell and Technion which will only represent the sustainability of occupation and Israeli Apartheid; the profitability of Apartheid.
“Israel can go on like this indefinitely," Blumenthal added, "unless we get in the way, unless we create mass external pressure."
Despite the criticism of Cornell-Technion's joint venture, some Roosevelt Island's 12,000 residents say they are ready to embrace the project including Roosevelt Island Residents Association President Matt Katz, who says Island residents are "welcoming an educational institution and Cornell has been in close touch with the community.”
He also added that “Roosevelt Island cannot settle Israel-Arab problems, we don't want to become involved in the politics of the conflict.”
An Arab man who lives on Roosevelt Island and asked to remain anonymous made his displeasure with the Cornell-Technion partnership clear, saying "Israel always talks about peace and they never deliver, look at it now, they’re building a school half way across the world where they can continue their technological growth that plights Arabs. What exactly are they trying to teach their children?
“It’s ironic," the man added, "my wife was hospitalized at the Coler-Goldwater Medical Center on the south side [of Roosevelt Island], but after they closed it down to make room for Cornell-Technion, my wife is now much further up at Coler-Goldwater North. Even in New York Arabs like us are getting evicted, the fact that Technion is involved means this all makes sense.”