As the Start-Up nation, Israel has exported all sorts of ideas and projects in a wide range of areas. Now, Israel will be exporting the very idea of a “start-up nation” — to the City of New York.
The Technion has been chosen to build an advanced high-tech campus in New York in partnership with Cornell University. The project, which will entail construction of a large campus on Roosevelt Island in the East River, is designed to help “New York become the world’s leading city for technological innovation,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said when the plan was announced last December.
But, perhaps unsurprisingly, pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel groups are organizing to try to prevent the project from moving forward. Several weeks ago, residents of Roosevelt Island, located in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, held a meeting in which they demanded that Cornell keep the Technion out of their neighborhood because some of its technology is used by the IDF. And over the past few months, a group of Cornell students and professors — ironically, a number of them Israelis themselves — have been calling on the school to pull out of the project.
Although activity on the campus has died down recently, said Yotam Arens, who, along with Emily Rotbart, is co-president of the Cornell-Israel Public Affairs Committee (CIPAC), “it’s likely that the protests will continue on and off until construction is completed.”
The project is one of the most innovative tech projects ever undertaken in New York, Bloomberg said when the deal was announced. “By adding a new state-of-the-art institution to our landscape, we will educate tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and create the jobs of the future. This partnership has so much promise because we share the same goal: to make New York City home to the world’s most talented workforce,” the mayor added.
The Technion, he noted, was an excellent choice for Cornell to partner with thanks to its advanced technological prowess, extensive experience in bringing ideas to market, and dedication to research and development.
The campus will be organized around around interdisciplinary hubs, which, Cornell said in a press release, will offer degrees in core industries appropriate to New York City’s information economy, “such as in media, advertising, finance, healthcare, real estate, fashion and design, to name a few.”
Cornell will immediately offer masters and doctoral degrees in areas such as Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Information Science and Engineering, and “will be centered on flexible and dynamic interdisciplinary application hubs instead of traditional academic departments.” An incubator and accelerator is planned, and the city will set up a $150 million “angel fund,” to fund promising start-ups based on ideas developed on the campus.
According to analysts, the NYC Tech Campus, as the project has been named, will generate more than $23 billion (in current terms) in overall economic activity over the next three decades, and net the city $1.4 billion in taxes. That is in addition to as many as 20,000 construction jobs and up to 8,000 permanent jobs that the campus itself will generate, along with as many as 30,000 jobs to be generated by companies that the campus, as a tech incubator, spins off. The campus will be built on land donated by the city, and the project has already raised hundreds of millions of dollars, including a $350 million gift from a single anonymous donor — the largest contribution in the university’s history and one of the largest in the history of American higher education.
The project has been moving forward apace. Classes are set to begin in the fall, at Google’s New York City offices, as the company announced last week that it was giving the project a gift worth $10 million — 22,000 square feet of space, to be used until the first phase of the $2 billion campus is ready in five years. Not to be outdone, Twitter will make its own contribution, in the form of Cornell alumni Greg Pass, who is the company’s former CTO. Pass will be the project’s “founding entrepreneurial officer,” and will “lead efforts to establish the entrepreneurial culture of the new campus and to collaborate with the tech industry.”
Technion and Cornell officials are just as excited as Bloomberg. “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,” said Technion president Peretz Lavie. Speaking for himself and Lavie, Cornell University President David J. Skorton said that he was “deeply gratified to have the opportunity to realize Mayor Bloomberg’s vision for New York City: to prepare tomorrow’s expanding talent pool of tech leaders and entrepreneurs to work with the city’s key industries in growing tomorrow’s innovation ecosystem.”
Less excited are a group of professors and students. In February, Students for Justice in Palestine circulated a petition calling on Cornell to drop the partnership, accusing the Technion of supplying technology “to oppress the Palestinians. 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,” says the petition, which in its five months online has garnered fewer than 950 signatures.
Which shows the extent of support the anti-Technion group has in the Cornell community, Rotbart and and Arens told The Times of Israel. “We in CIPAC heard that many people were outraged by the petition, so we wrote our own letter and sent it to university officials, to show our support of the project and to thank them for not backing down,” Rotbart said. In a series of articles in campus publications, CIPAC has stressed not only the benefits of the partnership to the campus and city, but the fact that the Technion is an equal-opportunity educator — and that a large percentage of its students are Israeli-Arabs.
Besides the pro-Palestinian group, “which is very small and consists mostly of grad students” (and one of whose leaders is actually Israeli, said Rotbart), a group of Cornell professors met to slam the project. The professors — all of whom, except one — were opposed to the partnership during a panel discussion, told students of the SJP, which sponsored the panel discussion on the project, to urge the administration to cut off the partnership.
For CIPAC, the flareup of anti-Israel feeling put a crimp in their mission – which is to advocate for Israel on the Cornell campus. “We focus on multicultural events,” said Arens. CIPAC has sponsored entertainment and cultural events focusing on Israel, on its own and with other student groups, including those representing Greek, Armenian, and even Iranian students. “We teamed up with the Iranian student group this year to watch the Oscars, as Israel’s and Iran’s entries were in close race to win the Best Foreign Picture award.”
A great time was had by all, Arens said, “and it was great to see the Persian and Jewish communities working together.”
CIPAC also advocates on behalf of the Cornell-Israel partnership – and sees informing the student body of the benefits of the partnership to the school, the city, and to them as an important part of its mission. Actually, said Rotbart, many of the students aren’t even aware that their school is set to host the high-tech hub of New York’s future, and they are certainly not aware of the ruckus raised by the anti-Technion crowd. “As campuses go, Cornell is not very political, at least compared to places like Berkeley and Columbia.”
Many of the students are apathetic, said Rotbart, adding that “the most unfortunate part of the protests is that we had to take away time from letting everyone know about how this project will help them and their futures in order to deal with it. It’s likely that the protests will continue on and off in the coming years, but I am sure the project will continue until it is finally completed, making life better for everyone.”