In March 2022, then-interim president Radenka Maric published a statement to the University of Connecticut community in response to a “dispute” that took place in Homer Babbidge Library in late February. The incident involved a group of Muslim students who were confronted for having — but not posting — fliers that were critical of Maric’s recent economic development trip to Israel, according to The Daily Campus. The approaching students reportedly tore down the fliers and threw them away.
The fliers connected the trip’s objectives to the oppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, writing, “The business ventures she’s trying to establish would cause UConn to profit off an apartheid state and is a betrayal to Palestinian human rights.”
In her address, initially circulated via an email euphemistically titled “The library incident,” Maric primarily emphasized the use of the term “Zionist,” which refers to a person who believes in the development and maintenance of a Jewish state and is commonly used to describe people who assert the State of Israel’s right to exist on land forcibly dispossessed from Palestinians from Al Nakba (“The catastrophe”) in 1948 to today, when Palestinians regularly face forced evictions and home demolitions by Israeli courts and settlers with no legal recourse. These dispossessions, which are the logical conclusion of modern Zionism, compound with the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories in Gaza and the West Bank to create conditions that Palestinians have long described as apartheid, more recently being classified as such by international human rights group Amnesty International.
Since the fundamentalist military-political party Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2006, Israel has also imposed a land, air and naval blockade over the region, which, housing over 2.3 million people within 140 square miles, is one of the most densely populated regions in the world. Fenced in by the Israeli occupation with roughly 4% of its water drinkable and 80% of its population refugized, Gaza has widely been described by residents, experts and advocates as the world’s largest “open-air prison.”
With virtually the entire Palestinian population under the gun of Israel, Maric’s response to the confrontation of Muslim students still poorly attempted to find a middle ground between hostage and hostage-taker, attributing the event to “ the combustible combination of religion, cultural identity, politics, history, and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East – a conflict that plays out around the world, including here.”
Equivocating still, Maric wrote, “Everyone is free to express their opinions and ‘choose a side’ to support one way or another in the larger conflict, but UConn – the university, the state agency, the public institution – is not and will not.”
Yet, what Maric’s statements conceal is the fact that UConn does, in fact, take a side in Israeli oppression of Palestinians — on behalf of Israel. If one party in a conflict has overwhelming power over the other; consistently uses it to violently subjugate their population through occupation and inescapable air strikes on civilian populations — as Israel has done and continues to do — and is seemingly incapable of responding to any acts of aggression with anything other than mass war crimes, then continuing to partner with that party’s universities and military, while also hosting propagandistic trips meant to obscure its own human right abuses, absolutely excuses and enables those transgressions. This is exactly the case with UConn and the State of Israel, a relationship upheld without a single objection from a university that seems to love human rights so much.
It’s hard to frame Maric’s trip to Israel better than the aforementioned flier, created by the UConn Muslim Students Association, did. In trying to tap into Israel’s “innovation ecosystem” — of which defense, cyber-security and surveillance technologies designed to be weaponized against Palestinians and neighboring Arab states comprise a whopping $19 billion — UConn sought to reap the benefits of industries built up and maintained by the oppression and dispossession of Palestine.
One of the results of the Israel trip was the continuation of UConn’s partnership with the Technion, Israel’s institute of technology located in Haifa, extending opportunities such as the UConn-Technion Clean Energy Initiative. Technion, however, is one of many Israeli universities directly involved in the surveillance and apartheid regime to which Palestinians are subjected. In his book, “Boycott Theory and the Struggle for Palestine: Universities, Intellectualism and Liberation,” Nick Riemer illustrates The Technion’s participation in Israeli apartheid: “The Technion, for instance, has close institutional links with Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Israel’s biggest arms manufacturers, and developed the remote-controlled bulldozer used to destroy Palestinians’ houses.
Riemer also calls out two familiar institutions to UConn: Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University. According to Riemer, “Ben Gurion University cooperates closely with IDF logistics, cyber-defense, air force technology and computing units, and trains IDF soldiers in engineering and exact sciences.” Tel Aviv University, similar to a certain college I know, pushes heavy recruitment into Israeli weapons and surveillance companies. UConn collaborates with both of these war-faring institutions — perhaps out of imperialist kinship — through its study abroad program.
UConn’s Hillel program organized an “Israel Discovery Trip” in 2022, according to The Daily Campus, having students pay just $200 to experience a completely whitewashed tour of Israel. The trip was funded by Maccabee Task Force, a far-right, anti-Palestinian organization that launders anti-Palestinian sentiments through claims to be combating antisemitism.
As the Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — whose agency awarded UConn’s School of Engineering $100,000 to study “Impact Point Prediction for Short and Medium Range Thrusting Objects” in 2011 — declares a total siege of all food, water and aid on the already starving Gaza, the poverty of Maric’s faux neutrality is on full display. UConn’s continued material support for Israel is a de facto endorsement for their completely asymmetrical regime of violence against the Palestinian people, which has a direct impact on Palestinian students attending this university. Should we continue to cower behind the exhausted and deceptive shield of neutrality and fail to take a decisive stance in solidarity with Palestinians, history will view UConn as an overt enabler of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and imperialism.