Solidarity trip to Israel 

President Patrick Cramer and a small delegation from the Max Planck Society and the Minerva Stiftung traveled to Israel at the End of November 2023.

December 04, 2023

A sign of solidarity with long-standing colleagues at Israeli universities and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Minerva Fellowship Programme was to be celebrated this year with a major ceremony in Jerusalem. 2,000 young scholarship holders have taken part in this exchange programme since 1973. 180 guests from the German and Israeli scientific communities wanted to come together to celebrate on the premises of the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem in the immediate vicinity of the official residence of President Isaac Herzog. Like his Israeli counterpart, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had promised to open the event in Jerusalem with a speech. 

But after the barbaric terrorist attack by Hamas on 7 October, nothing is as it was. 1200 murdered children, w​​omen and men, more than 5000 injured and 239 kidnapped hostages. In addition, there is a horrific war in Gaza, which is also causing terrible suffering there. And despite the cancellation of the planned event, a small delegation from the Max Planck Society and the Minerva Stiftung, led by President Cramer, travelled to Israel at the end of November. "We wanted to express our solidarity with our long-standing colleagues at the Israeli universities and the Weizmann Institute of Science in these difficult times," said Cramer. "Our colleagues welcomed us with great joy and deep sadness at the same time. One colleague could not hide her tears. She was suffering from this silence, from the lack of sympathy from the global community," says the President. 

In fact, foreign research institutions reacted late or never to the horror of 7 October. Israel is currently fighting two wars, said a colleague: one in Gaza and one on the Internet. There are anti-Israeli protests everywhere. The terrorist attack by Hamas is being relativised or hushed up. There is talk of colonialism, apartheid, even genocide on social media - but the atrocities committed by Hamas are hardly ever mentioned. The colleagues are concerned about the anti-Israel demonstrations taking place around the world, including in Europe and Germany. The Max Planck President's speech was primarily intended to provide comfort, but also confidence.

The evening at the Van Leer Institute was attended by the presidents and vice presidents of Israeli universities and research institutions as well as the directors of the Minerva Centres - over 50 guests in total.​

The President not only expressed his great sympathy for the pain of the people in Israel, but also spoke about the suffering of the civilian population in Gaza. It became clear that those present were not only deeply shocked by the events of the last two months, but also that they all realised what this war means not only for their own families, but also for the people in Gaza.

Ben Gurion University is only 50 kilometres away from Gaza - it has suffered 84 victims of terrorism. The colleague reported that he had been to many mourning ceremonies. But despite everything, he also sees the suffering in Gaza. The start of term has been postponed until January. He wants to hold a memorial service then. He hopes that this will also defuse conflicts between Arab and Jewish students. The Vice President of the University of Haifa, Mouna Maroun, wrote in an article: "Israeli Arabs and Jews are like salt and pepper - they both belong on the table, and once they're sprinkled into a dish, it's almost impossible to distinguish between them."

The Max Planck Society and the Minerva Stiftung would like to use their close scientific relationships to help where possible: especially in this current Middle East crisis, which is also affecting science in Israel and Gaza, it is important to realise that research not only creates new knowledge - research also brings different people together and can therefore have a unifying effect. This confidence is fuelled in part by the experience of reconciliation between Germans and Israelis in the past. Patrick Cramer recalled Otto Hahn's first trip to Israel - he had brought along a black and white photo of the Max Planck delegation at the time.

The reappraisal of the history of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and the resulting obligation to promote science in and with Israel in particular has a long tradition. And despite these historical and close relationships, no Max Planck delegation has ever laid a wreath in the name of the victims of National Socialism from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. This time, a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and a wreath-laying ceremony were part of the trip and a very moving moment for the entire delegation.​

The Minerva Stiftung will further expand its project funding in the area of Human Rights and Democracy. In addition, funding for the Fellowship Programme will be increased to provide more support for Israelis of Arab origin. And the Max Planck Society will - right now - open an office in Israel in order to be on site as the Minerva Stiftung and Max Planck Society and to strengthen Israeli-German scientific cooperation.​

The journalist Renee Ghert-Zand from the Israeli daily newspaper Times of Israel accompanied the delegation and conducted an in-depth interview with President Cramer. 

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