No more MIT research for Israel’s Ministry of Defense

On April 19th, members of MIT’s Graduate Student Union–UE Local 256 (GSU) democratically adopted a resolution calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and the MIT community to cut all research and financial ties with the Israeli military. The resolution passed with a 70.5% yes vote, and comes on the heels of a corresponding MIT Undergraduate Association resolution that received a 63.7% yes vote.  

MIT has received over $11 million in committed research funding from the Israeli Ministry of Defense  

Over the past six months, the Israeli Ministry of Defense has been credibly accused of war crimes including the mass killing of tens of thousands of civilians, including children, 5,479 students, 261 teachers and 95 university professors; the forcible displacement of millions; the destruction of universities and hospitals; the slaughter of countless medical workers, journalists, and humanitarian aid workers; and the forced starvation of an entire people. As of this writing, mass graves containing hundreds of bodies of bound-up individuals and children are being uncovered at several besieged hospitals.  

MIT undeniably has a hand in these atrocities. Since 2015, the Institute has received over $11 million in research funding from Israel’s Ministry of Defense, with over $1.6 million allocated for 2023 alone. These funds support projects with clear military applications including: autonomous robotic swarms (LIDS), algorithms for pursuit-evasion strategies (LIDS), underwater persistent monitoring (LIDS), and quantum fiber magnetometry (RLE). Notably, as of March 2024, one of these projects, ‘field-capable bacterial biosensors with hyperspectral reporters for remote detection of analytes of interest,’ has been processed for renewal; autonomous robotic swarms was renewed in November 2023. This information was gathered from an internal grant management tool called Kuali Coeus; general access to this has been limited once the Coalition Against Apartheid (CAA) published these findings. MIT’s relationship with the Israeli military apparatus includes special programs such as the Lockheed Martin seed fund, while Elbit, a member of MIT's Industrial Liaison Program, manufactures many of the bombs that have destroyed every one of our peer institutions in Gaza, and continue to fall on displaced people. 

It need not be this way. A key call of both the undergraduate and graduate resolutions, as well as the Scientists Against Genocide Encampment, is an end to research collaborations with the Israeli Ministry of Defense that make the Institute complicit in ongoing atrocities.  

Divestment is a tried, tested, and accepted practice at MIT 

Such a break is not unprecedented. In May 1970, MIT cited serious concerns about its complicity in the atrocities committed by US forces in Vietnam and divested from its own special research center—the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, which was working on guidance systems for the Poseidon missile. Just two years ago, the Institute swiftly discontinued the Skoltech collaborations the day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These divestments were morally urgent and neither was considered a breach of academic freedom . 

It is we — the students, staff and faculty of MIT — who have always been crucial in curtailing any negative societal impacts of the Institute’s research. Institute Professors Noam Chomsky and Henry Kendall have consistently spoken up against MIT’s complicity in militarism through forums like Scientists Strike For Peace and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. In 1987, the CAA erected a shantytown on Kresge lawn to urge the MIT Corporation to divest from Apartheid South Africa. This time is not any different. 

Faculty, we need your support!  

We know from the past that divestment is possible, and that the efforts of faculty will be crucial in making it happen. We call on faculty of conscience to use your positions of influence to:  

1. Cease any and all research collaboration with the Israeli military. Further, we call on you to apply pressure to the Institute and your peers to end complicity in violent technologies, and to engage in conversations with colleagues about the impacts of research projects underway at MIT—especially their role in the current assault on Gaza and the continued oppression of the Palestinian people.  

2. Organize with us on the ground by joining other allied faculty and staff and making your support known to your students, your colleagues and the administration. As seen at Emerson, Harvard, Columbia, NYU, UT Austin and Yale, the support of faculty members strengthens our movement, and protects all of us as we continue to organize. 

3. Uplift Palestinian institutions of knowledge, especially by helping rebuild science and research capacity in Palestine, similarly to what MIT has done recently for Ukraine. Academics in Palestine ask that we collaborate with Palestinian researchers, invite them to give talks, and engage with them like other peers around the world. They ask that we assist them in accessing publications and academic opportunities.  

The future of research must be liberatory 

It is incumbent on us as researchers at a powerful institution to constantly confront the purpose and impact of our research: who it serves, and who it has the potential to harm. We must recognize our place in a constellation of global, grass-roots organizers working towards a future free of imperialism, racism, exploitation, militarism and all other forms of oppression. It is our responsibility to ensure that our institutions support the liberation of all people: from Palestine to the Congo to Sudan and Haiti.   

In a recent video to the MIT community, President Sally Kornbluth reiterated her position that there is a “distinction between what we can say—what we have a right to say—and what we should say”. There is also the question of what we must say. We must speak against atrocities enabled by our science. We must emphasize the urgent moral distinction between what funding we can take—and have the right to take—and what funding we should take.  

MIT students are resolute in our call for all faculty to reject funding from the Israeli military. We believe in the emancipatory power of science: a science that is life affirming, invested in building sustainable and equitable futures, that strives to relieve suffering for our fellow human beings. As we reflect on our vision of science as a tool of liberation, not oppression, we remind you that we are not just your students, but your eventual colleagues and successors. We are building a future for academia that we will be proud to take part in. We invite you to join us.  

The MIT Graduate Students for Palestine (G4P) is a member of the Coalition for Palestine.

Note: This piece is being cross-published in the MIT Faculty Newsletter.