Technion’s Ties to Arms Innovation and Beyond
Posted by Alfonse Muglia on February 21, 2012
The following is a sneak peak of an article of mine that will appear in this week’s issue of The Cornell Review. It goes into detail regarding the exact nature of Technion’s alleged connections to military arms creation and what it may mean for the Cornell community going forward:
“Our entire community has come together, in a way that happens only so often in an institution’s history.” President David J. Skorton
One could picture the grin on the face of President as he wrote these words for his press release following the December 16, 2011 announcement that Cornell University had won Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s contest to lead New York City into the next era of technological innovation. The ensuing boost in both publicity and morale around Cornell was unparalleled, with many believing that everyone in the Cornell community was pleased with the announcement.
This umbrella of optimism, however, has been concealing the unanswered questions of those around campus calling for specifics surrounding the University’s partner in victory. Cornell commitment to the Cornell NYC will connect the University to the Israel Institute of Technology, also known as “The Technion” – a global force in engineering and technological innovation.
Despite Provost Kent Fuchs’ claims that Technion would make no financial contribution to the campus, the mere fact that their name appears first in the most significant part of CornellNYC Tech – The Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute (TCII) – suggests that Technion will have a large role in the management and operations of the school.
“The Technion is the driving force behind the miracle of Israel’s technology economy,” expressed President Skorton in a statement at the time of the announced collaboration.
Founded in 1912 – 36 years before Israel declared independence – Technion was one of the first symbols of nationalism in the developing country. The school educated the nation’s first leading engineers, mathematicians, and scientists. As a result, it played a leading role in securing the nation’s staying power by producing both the individuals and technology that fabricated Israel’s infrastructure and national defense.
“The key to the development of a country is to train leaders in science,” remarked Technion professor Ian Marek in a June 2011 interview.
Technion students truly are leaders in science. The Technion satellite, for example, was launched in 1998 and was constructed entirely by Technion students. The idea was proposed by a Technion physics professor, in partnership with the space program for the Israel Ministry of Defense.
In this sense, Technion has done more than educate the future leaders of Israel. As the nation’s leading research Institution, it has had a long history of partnering with a variety of organizations to help develop the technology they seek. It has played a major role in preserving the longevity of the nation state.
Two of these particular involvements, however, are raising concerns within Cornell’s Palestinian community and beyond, as Technion’s research in the field of arms creation is causing some to question the Institution’s role in ongoing violence in the Middle East.
On February 5, a group of graduate students and members of Students for Justice in Palestine launched a petition titled “We oppose Cornell University’s collaboration with Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.” The petition was addressed to President Skorton, Mayor Bloomberg, Vice President Susan Murphy, and Provost Fuchs, It claimed, “More than any other university in Israel, the Technion, which is involved in the research and development of military and arms technology, is directly implicated in war crimes.”
“Technion has explicitly joint programs with these corporations that are doing the work of framing the structures for the occupation,” remarked Dan Sinykin, a third year Ph. D student in English and member of Students for Justice in Palestine, in a recent interview with The Cornell Review.
The connection that the organization is making is between Technion’s research and its use for military purposes.
They highlight Technion’s involvements with Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems LTD. as being particularly strong evidence of the Technion’s ties to the Israeli military.
“Elbit Systems is actively involved in creating the surveillance of the infrastructure for the separation wall,” continued Sinykin. “Technion is then involved with partnering with this company and creating the technology and the surveillance for them.”
More investigation uncovers the nature of Elbit’s relationship with Technion. As stated in a June 2008 press release from Elbit Systems, “According to the agreement, Elbit Systems will award research grants during the next five years, to selected Technion researchers of the Electrical Engineering Department.”
Students for Justice in Palestine report that these grants have totaled $500,000 dollars a year.
Elbit is a leading producer of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), highlighted by the Elbit Hermes 450. The H450 is primarily used in surveillance, and reports claim that one has been bought by the Israeli Air Force for use along the Israel West Bank Barrier – also known as the separation wall.
Some of this influence has spread into Technion’s Turbo & Jet Engine Laboratory at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering of the Technion. The Annual Israeli Jet Engine Symposium frequently hosts speakers from Elbit’s divisions, including Hemi Oron’s 2006 presentation titled “UAV Engines in the Next Decade,” which highlighted the Rotary Engines used in the Hermes 450.
On their website, Technion’s Turbo & Jet Engine laboratory list the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and The European Commission – the executive body of the European Union – as two of their three current funding organizations.
Israel is not Elbit’s only customer, and thus it is not the only nation that is benefitting from the research being conducting in Technion’s laboratories. Elbit is a global corporation with divisions in both the United States and Europe, which also specialize in constructing commercial aircrafts.
Technion’s rsearch has already been utilized for the purposes of the United States. The U. S. Border Control purchased one Hermes 450 in 2004 for use in the Arizona Border Control Initiative (ABC). According to the Homeland Security press release, “The Hermes 450 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) will supplement ground security efforts with a live video feed of potentially illegal smuggling as it occurs.”
The same can be said for America’s allies. The British Army began using a Hermes 450 in 2007 in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It renewed a contract with Elbit Systems in October 2010 act for about $70 million dollars. Mexico and Brazil are also reported buyers.
Technion, of course, did not produce the Hermes 450. Specifically, all reports suggest that they conducted research into the engines that Elbit chose to use for this and some of their products, including commercial products.
As this suggests, a connection between Technion, Elbit, and the Israel government could not be drawn, unless one is prepared to connect the research conducted in Technion’s Haifa campus to the United States and the European Union as well.
The issue raised by Students for Justice in Palestine’s petition deals with this connection between Elbit and Technion. That organization is claiming that Technion is responsible for how the Israeli government choses to uses technology that it purchases from corporations, who use Technion research to make only parts of those products.
“The fact that Cornell is partnering with Technion thus implicates us in those things that Technion is doing, so it thus implicates Cornell and the city of New York in the occupation of the Palestinian territories,” continued Sinykin, taking the above logic one step further by implying that Cornell was now “complicit” with this chain of events. “By agreeing to partner alongside them, we are engaged in the work that Technion has done.”
Students for Justice in Palestine are not the first collegiate movement calling for a particular organization to cut its ties with Technion. Following the International Court of Justice’s ruling that Elbit’s participation in the Apartheid Wall was ruled illegal, movements began at the University of California – Berkeley and the University of Johannesburg to end joint programs with Technion. Both were successful.
Similar “Boycott Technion” movements at Concordia University and McGill University in Canada are ongoing.
“The fact that other schools are in solidarity is always encouraging,” remarked Sinkyin, who was the third to sign to the online petition. “But we would’ve done this petition regardless.”
Of the 539 petition signers, as of Sunday, February 19, there are a diverse group of graduate and undergraduate students, professors, students from other Universities, and unaffiliated activists. A substantial amount of signers, 59, wished to remain anonymous or only gave their first name.
The influence of Technion’s research expands beyond its connection to Elbit. In 2001, the Institution established a three-year MBA program in conjunction with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. Rafael was once a branch of the Israeli military but has since become a government corporation “whose goal is to be a growing, profitable company, making a unique and significant contribution to the security of the State of Israel.”
Cornell’s TCII partner’s research is actively used in the construction of non-violent surveillance vehicles. The extent of Technion’s research, however, extends far beyond engine creation and management programs. Technion boasts three Nobel Prize winners and 59 heads of Israeli’s 121 NASDAQ companies among their alumni. This is what made them such an appealing partner to Cornell in the Mayor Bloomberg’s contest.
Technion is not directly responsible for how other organizations use their research. However, the Institution is tied to some of the world’s leading military arms-creating corporations, and there is no denying that Cornell is set to embark on a longstanding relationship with a university that is fundamentally very different from itself.
Time will tell how this juxtaposition affects which educational superpower is truly in charge of CornellNYC Tech, home of the Technion-Cornell Institute of Innovation. Regardless of the outcome, Cornell’s leadership has made a decision for the entire community: partnering with international research powers, like Technion, is the means to fulfill President Skorton’s ultimate goal of becoming a global leader in research.