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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New Yorkers Against Cornell Technion Partnership Applied Sciences and Engineering School Hold Public Meeting On Roosevelt Island

 Image of Mayor Bloomberg, Technion President Lavie and Cornell President Skorton via NYC Digital

Last Monday night May 14, an organization named New Yorkers Against The Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT) held a public meeting on Roosevelt Island. According to the NYCACT mission statement:
On December 19th 2011 Mayor Bloomberg announced that Cornell University and its partner, The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, had won a bid for a massive new applied sciences and technology campus to be built on Roosevelt Island.  This was agreed behind closed doors, without consulting staff and faculty at Cornell [1].

What the public was not told is that The Technion is complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and the rights of Palestinians, specifically by designing military weapons and developing technologies that are used to drive Palestinians off their land, repress demonstrations for their rights, and carry out attacks against people in Lebanon, Gaza, and elsewhere [2,3]....
NYCACT is demanding:
  1. ... That the City of New York Administration ends this collaboration, for which $100 million of New Yorker’s tax-payer money has been promised,
  2. That the Cornell University Administration ends its partnership with The Technion, in line with the call by the Palestinian Council for Higher Education’s request for “non-cooperation in the scientific and technical fields between Palestinian and Israeli universities” [6]....
Prior to Monday night's meeting, NYCACT explained the purpose of the meeting as:
We will be explaining what The Technion is, and hearing what the residents of Roosevelt Island really think.
I was not able to attend the meeting but received comments from some who did attend the meeting. Roosevelt Island resident Dave Evans shares these thoughts about the meeting:
There is growing "civic" interest in the future Cornell-Technion campus here on Roosevelt Island. We Islanders do not have a monopoly on that interest nor can we claim that all of us fully agree on the merits of the project. On Monday (14 May) evening a group, "New Yorkers Against Cornell-Technion (NYACT)", held a meeting on the Island. Originally planned at the Westview Lower Community Center, the 7:00pm session was moved to the Trellis restaurant with an overflowing group of around 35-45 folks crowded into the southern side of the facility opposite the Church. We pride ourselves for the diverse population on the Island and that was well reflected in the meeting with different nationalities, faiths, occupations, and views.

An Islander moderated the meeting and tried to enforce rules of decorum but, and in my view unfortunately, was often challenged by several attendees (some shouting), who were very anxious to express their views, even if it meant interrupting other speakers. Therein rests the problem so to speak - - the passion and perhaps fears invoked by this project, envisioned for the site currently occupied by one of the Island's two hospitals that care for and house the disabled. NYACT representatives made it clear that their primary concern with the project is the fact that Cornell is partnering with Technion. They point to Technion as a major Israeli company involved in "making military, surveillance, and security equipment which directly contribute to violations of international humanitarian law" and as "deeply involved in militarism, occupation, and surveillance" against Palestine. NYACT literature also indicates that "Technion has contributed zero dollars while you are providing $100 million in tax breaks" for the venture.

The session was certainly lively and broad as evidenced by the amount of discussion not only about security, transportation and "the fabric of the Island", but also, about an uncertainty and unfairness associated with plans for re-locating and caring for the folks at Goldwater. I suspect some, maybe many (including Islanders), will join the NYACT group in opposition. NYACT has a growing list of actions, including a petition from NYC residents to the Mayor, legislators, etc.; meetings with the same; ads in the WIRE, flyers concurrent with future meetings such as the 22 May scoping session at Manhattan Park; and partnering with those concerned about Goldwater. For supporters, this should serve as a wake-up call so not to pursue interests on a solo basis but to organize and show strength in numbers in the pursuit of transparency, an understanding of impacts, and realistic benefits.

As to the question of whether this future Cornell-Technion project is one of Domestic or Foreign Policy/International Relations. Well, obviously it is both given the reality that each has a long history and will be a component of the debate moving forward. In fact, a lively and heated debate but I hope it not too naive to wish for a respectful debate.
A Roosevelt Island resident summarized the statement of Roosevelt Island Residents Association President (RIRA) Matt Katz during the NYACT meeting as:
Roosevelt Island cannot settle Israel Arab problems,  we don't want to become involved in the politics of the conflict, we are welcoming an educational institution and Cornell has been in close touch with the community
Mr. Katz confirmed that it is an accurate summary of his statement during the meeting and added in a subsequent email message to me:
I felt that the sponsors of the meeting, primarily off-Islanders, had not done the necessary homework to learn of RIRA’s year-long dialogue with Cornell (and before them, Stanford) or to read the extensive coverage of that dialogue by you and by The WIRE.
I received estimates that anywhere from 70 - 90% of the 35-45 people attending the meeting were not Roosevelt Island residents.

Cornell President David Skorton presented his view on the Roosevelt Island Cornell - Technion NYC Tech Partnership in the February 27 Cornell Daily Sun:
... We are fortunate to have the Technion as a partner on our new campus. The Technion is an intellectual powerhouse: Three of Israel’s 10 Nobel Prize winners are graduates of the Technion. Last October, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Dr. Dan Shechtman, a professor of material science at the Technion, who also earned all three of his degrees there. Today, more than 70 percent of Technion graduates are employed in the tech sector and Technion graduates head half of the 121 Israeli companies on the NASDAQ. The Technion brings a level of expertise in technology transfer to existing industry that is unmatched in the world.

Cornell and the Technion will collaborate on research and education through the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute. Faculty will be hired specifically for the new campus, and there will be opportunities for faculty from the Ithaca campus to do research and teach at the tech campus. There will be a number of degree options: Once the programs are accredited by the State of New York, students at the tech campus will be able to earn graduate degrees from Cornell, the Technion or a dual Cornell/Technion Master of Applied Science degree with a unique emphasis on the application of sciences, entrepreneurship and management. While the tech campus will not offer undergraduate degrees, undergraduates will have opportunities to pursue research projects and internships there.

Our partnership with the Technion in this new venture is based on our complementary academic expertise and strengths and our shared vision for a campus that will help transform New York City into a world hub of innovation and technology commercialization. From its inception nearly 150 years ago, Cornell and its faculty have had many agreements and working relationships with academic institutions around the world. These collaborations are important to our mission of teaching, discovery and engagement, and we encourage them even in countries where some of our faculty, students, staff and alumni may have significant disagreements with the policies of the governments. Time and again, the knowledge-sharing and real-world solutions that spring from these relationships benefit the peoples of many countries, including our own, and in the long run contribute to the betterment of our global community. In this collaboration, as with all our collaborations, we will adhere to our academic values and practices. I am proud to be working with colleagues at the Technion....
Also, the March 2 Cornell Daily Sun reports:
... Provost Kent Fuchs has said that the partnership between Cornell and the Technion is intended not as a political statement, but rather as an opportunity for the University to foster global academic cooperation....
Here's more on the Cornell Technion partnership

You Tube Video of Cornell Technion Partnership

and an interview on NY 1 with Cornell President David Skorton and Technion President Peretz Lavie on NY 1 following announcement of their selection to build the NYC Applied Sciences and Engineering School on Roosevelt Island.

UPDATE 5/27 - WNYC has more on the Technion:
... “There’s more Israeli technology companies listed on the NASDAQ than European technology companies,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in response to a question about the Technion at a recent press conference. “The more engineering schools there are here, the more other engineering schools want to be here, the more companies that are here, the more people want to come here.”

Bloomberg has aspirations for New York City to replace Silicon Valley as the place to start new digital technology companies. The new campus, he said, will spin off some 600 such companies in the next 30 years.

Cornell is paying for the initial development of the campus, but its central school will be the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, directed by Craig Gotsman, a computer science professor from the Technion.

The partnership is the culmination of a months-long courtship, but the Technion’s relationship with New York City is much older....
... But the role of the Technion in innovation may be inflated, some say. It is a part of Israel’s start-up ecosystem, but not necessarily the primary driver.

“It may be that the people who chose the Technion above other institutions in New York thought that because the Technion was in Israel and Israel is extremely entrepreneurial, Technion caused entrepreneurship,” said Dan Isenberg, writer and founder of the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project. “It’s an optical illusion.”

The recipe for a successful high-tech cluster is different in each instance, according to Isenberg. In Israel, he points to the military—the mandatory Israeli Defense Forces — as a very important source both of technical education and of technology itself....


Anonymous said...

What a joke!!! RI, stay out of politics as all countries violate international law, including the U.S.

roozevelt said...

Blah, Blah, Blah ... What Public Meeting?  That thing consisted of 5 or 6 people meeting over coffee at the Trellis.

CheshireKitty said...

The US relies on advancements in American technology stemming from research in private industry, academia, and the military, for defense.  Often, this research results in advances in civilian areas, such as Darpanet leading to the internet.  Just like the US, Israel has a dynamic technology sector helping in Israel's defense, as well as making non-defense contributions to its economy.  Technion joining Cornell to build a tech campus on RI is highly providential.  Once the campus is built, all we'll need is a good shwarma-falafel restaurant (that also sells baklava) on RI!!  

burgundyboy said...

 There were about 40 people

Naomi Allen said...

Hi, I was there, and there were only 10 people in the group of about 40 who were not from the Island. But anyway, this is a big issue, and it will affect all of New York City and beyond.

SQMarcus said...

I would like to add a few additional comments to the blog's reporting of the Anti- Technion meeting.  The presenter was very one-sided in her report.  She failed to mention how many American universities have contracts with the US military.  Is it possible that even Cornell might be developing weapons for our various wars ?  Also a gentleman from Palestine tried to tell the group that the Technion has both Israeli and Palestinian faculty. I have to assume that the Technion does some global good since three faculty members won the Nobel Prize this year.   I am sure that if her neighbors were not out to wipe Israel off the map, that the Technion would be quite happy to turn their swords into plows.  Israel is doing whatever any country would do - defending itself against threatening neighbors.  Why is Israel being held to higher standards. Why aren't the other Arab countries helping the Palestinians, especially years ago when this mess first started?   As I said at that meeting, why are these people not concerned about Syria which is clearly acting in a horrendous way toward its own citizens.  Let us not politicize C/T coming to RI and please let us not allow outsiders ruin our precious racial and religious harmony here.  

Anna_Calcutt said...

There were 20-25% non RI-residents there.  But as Dave Evans rightly states: "We Islanders do not have a monopoly on that interest". 

All New Yorkers whose tax money ($100 million of it) is being promised for this project have a vested interest.  As does anyone else who cares about the oppressed people of the world. 

As one woman stated at the meeting "I'm against any warmonger coming to the island, wherever they're from".

burgundyboy said...

It's the Mayor who will ruin our harmony by bringing in Israel's military war machine into our neighborhood.  Stay the hell out, I say.

Anonymous said...

To the previous poster, your statement could not be any more ignorant. Good thing your opinion means absolutely nothing.

Atlanticistreader said...

  NYACT representatives are hateful and not representative of New York

bubbareeves said...

What a F**kin Joke. NYACT, Morons going absolutley Nowhere!

bubbareeves said...

Too much Burgundy, SlopeHead!

NYACT said...


We thank Roosevelt
Islander for highlighting this important issue, and for explaining why New
Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT) has launched a campaign.


In response to some of the comments, we would like to offer
a few clarifications and comments of our own. First, we think the point about
the existence of Palestinian-Israeli students and faculty at The Technion is
irrelevant.  Surely this fact
cannot compensate for over 40 years of military occupation in the West Bank and
Gaza, or thousands of unlawful Palestinian deaths from Israeli violence
stemming from at least 1948.  Nor
does it make up for the structural and everyday discrimination
Palestinian-Israeli students and faculty face on Israeli campuses throughout
the region. 


Second, Roosevelt Island cannot exempt itself from the
political implications of the Cornell-Technion proposal.  It is The
Technion’s tight links with Israel’s military industry, not the NYACT campaign,
which make this issue political.  For
one, the Cornell-Technion partnership is inextricably political because
Palestinian civil society has called for an international boycott against
collaborations such as this.  In so
doing, Palestinians are asking the entire world to think much more seriously
and critically about the ongoing denial to them of the fundamental rights that
have been spelled out on their behalf in countless international laws.  Boycott is neither a punishment nor an
arbitrary reaction to Israel’s practices, but a means of putting pressure on a
government which refuses to respect or adhere to international consensus. 
Boycott is also not a principle. 
It is a strategy oriented toward changing oppressive policies.  We believe that through this tactic, a
concrete impact can be made in Israel/Palestine that will ensure decent and
secure lives for all of its inhabitants, be they Jewish or Palestinian.  As many courageous and principled Jewish
Israelis recognize, the boycott is not anti-Semitic.  Its purpose is to change the racist system of oppression in
Israel that has heretofore resisted change from
within.  Supporting the boycott of Israel is no more anti-Semitic than
support of the boycott of Apartheid South Africa during the 1980s was


That said, in Israel, there is actually far more public
protest against, and visibility regarding, the occupation, and far more
attention to the "Palestine question" than there ever has been in the
U.S.  Even in Israel, the direct perpetrator of major human rights violations
against Palestinians (and their supporters), open public controversy exists
over the conflict, whereas in the U.S., discourse on the issue within the
public sphere has largely been snuffed out.  We thereby reiterate how
important it is that the Cornell-Technion partnership be covered widely—and
objectively—in the press and discussed extensively in the
New York City public sphere, especially on Roosevelt Island, where speaking out
about this issue is an urgent necessity.


For more information please visit:


Mark Kerpine said...

BDS is a cult of crazies that recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination, but not the right of Israel - the Jewish state - to exist. What is that if not anti-Semitism? Even Palestinian advocates like Finkelstein say so.

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