Science and technology should be used to benefit humanity, not to destroy it. Sadly, MIT’s Global Education and Career Development Center (GECDC) betrayed this principle this past weekend when it co-sponsored a weekend of exhibits, presentations and events billed as “Israeli Innovation — Healing the World through Technology” at the Museum of Science. Israeli Innovation Weekend (IIW) was co-sponsored by the Consulate-General of the State of Israel to New England, which is also one of the events top donors; nearly half of IIW’s steering committee is made up of consulate staff.
The slick exhibitions featuring Israel’s technological advances and flashy panels were designed to wow the public and lure venture capitalists. However, IIW was hardly an innocent educational event. It was, instead, part of a state-sponsored campaign to re-brand Israel and distract attention from its atrocious human rights record and its brutal treatment of the indigenous Palestinian population; the Palestinians are obviously not part of the “world” being “healed” by Israeli technology. Even though the “Brand Israel” project dates back to 2006, its propaganda or “hasbara” value has become all the more critical with the findings of the Goldstone Report, a study commisioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council on the Gaza conflict. It is unfortunate for this PR campaign that Judge Goldstone has a realistic view of what “healing through technology” feels like in Gaza.
Propaganda efforts such as IIW are key to sustaining the virtually unconditional U.S. support for Israel. The U.S. singles out Israel for special treatment, lavishing it with billions of dollars of economic and military aid every year and protecting it from any concerted action by international institutions to hold it accountable for its human rights abuses.
Yet our “special relationship” is with a country that systematically privileges the Jewish over the non-Jewish inhabitants of Israel/Palestine. Israel does not merely discriminate between its citizens, although that would be bad enough: through the Law of Return it allows foreigners with no link to the country other than religion to arrive and enjoy more rights than non-Jewish natives while disallowing the return of Palestinians ethnically-cleansed since 1948. This apartheid regime is a source of instability and the political arrangement that Israel seeks to maintain. It perpetrates war crimes and other human rights abuses that regularly draw the censure of the international community.
Some may wish to put politics aside when discussing science, but IIW’s own program shows how impossible this is. One of the featured speakers was president of The Technion, an institution with a long track record of developing technologies of death used by Israel’s military (and exported elsewhere, including to the U.S.). These include remote-controlled bulldozers for demolishing Palestinian homes and drones for targeting Palestinians from the air.
The Technion has established a joint research center with Elbit, a manufacturer of unmanned drones and surveillance technology used around the wall that encircles Palestinian villages and confiscates more and more of their lands. This wall was ruled to be illegal by the International Court of Justice back in 2004. A major Swedish pension fund recently divested from Elbit for its complicity in violating international law.
IIW also hyped eco-friendly technologies to “greenwash” Israel’s reputation, but chose dubious partners for this. Its program included Dan Senor, who was the public face of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. It also showcased “Better Place,” an electric car manufacturer that hired Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky as CEO of its Israel branch. Kaplinsky coordinated the massive Litani Offensive in 2006 in the last 72 hours of the Lebanon war while cease fire negotiations were underway.
Even putting aside these sordid links between the Israeli government, high-tech sector, and research institutes, the sheer dissonance between IIW’s celebration of Israeli triumphalism and the reality of an apartheid regime was breathtaking. How can anyone laud Israel for advances in energy efficiency when it punishes the millions of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip by deliberately reducing their fuel and electricity supplies, causing prolonged shortages that are severely impacting hospitals and all aspects of daily life?
How can we let Israel brag about its advances in water technology while it is refusing to allow Gazans to fix the water and sewage systems that its army had destroyed, leaving 95 percent of Gaza’s water now unfit for human use, as documented by Amnesty International?
How can anyone boast about Israel’s advanced medical technologies when the government prevents Palestinians who need urgent medical care access to its hospitals, while simultaneously preventing Palestinian hospitals from receiving even basic medical supplies?
How can we allow Israel to promote itself as “healing the world” when it has a policy of slow strangulation of the Palestinians, allowing Palestinians, in the words of a November 2007 Red Cross report, “with just enough to survive, but not enough to live normal and dignified lives”?
By avoiding these questions through a staggeringly misleading set of presentations, IIW showed itself to be nothing but a shallow propaganda event. The sponsorship of “neutral” institutions like GECDC is crucial for covering up the underlying political agenda of this propaganda effort.
Science and technology have a place in helping to achieve peace with justice in Israel/Palestine, but being paraded out in cynical government-funded PR campaigns is not one of them. GECDC should not have participated in the Israeli Consulate’s attempt to “re-brand” Israel.
Portions of this column were previously published as part of an “Open Letter to the Boston Museum of Science” which was co-authored and signed by the author.