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Dispute within Max Planck Society over ties to Israel

Statement from a collective of academics in solidarity with Palestine from The Max Planck Society:

The Max Planck Society (MPS) is a government-funded research organisation in Germany that comprises 85 research institutes (most of which are also based in Germany), and it is one of the most successful such organisations worldwide. Therefore, its academic and non-academic employees come from various backgrounds, and the MPS prides itself on the diversity it fosters. However, this position has not always been reflected in the political statements and stances that the MPS has expressed over the years, its continuous support and collaboration with Israeli research institutions, which partake in the apartheid regime in occupied Palestine, being a prime example of this.

As employees of the MPS, we are writing this letter to show our concern and disapproval of the recent statements the MPS has made, both internally and externally, regarding the unfolding Israel-Hamas conflict and the use of the historical ties the MPS has with Israel to justify not engaging with any critique of Israeli actions towards Palestinian people. We are also in profound disagreement with the visit of the MPS president, Patrick Cramer, to Israel at the end of November, in which the continuous support of the MPS for Israeli academic institutions has been restated.

On October 11 2023, a statement called “Statement on the terror attacks against Israel” was published by the MPS on the website of the society, the main communication channel. Multiple researchers, in particular PhD students, at the MPS found the communication to be one-sided and oblivious to the historical complexity of the situation and co-wrote a letter addressed to the president which reasonably requested the statement to be changed to express the same amount of empathy to the victims on all sides and to reflect the diversity of backgrounds of the employees of the MPS. The response from the MPS was an internal statement published on October 20, which elaborates on its historical ties with Israel and several research institutions in Israel. Therefore, the “special relations of the Max Planck Society with Israel” cannot allow the MPS to take a stance against the actions of Israel in Gaza. 

While the Hamas attack took place on October 7, Israel announced a total blockade on Gaza on the 9th, forced 1.1 million people to evacuate to the South, bombed the roads marked as safe on the 13th and carried out indiscriminate rocket attacks, bombing civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, in densely populated areas for the past weeks. The statements made by the MPS only show awareness of the Hamas attacks but are willfully ignorant of the situation in Palestine before or after October 7. 

Not only does the MPS unconditionally support the state of Israel, it is also contributing to spreading false information about Hamas, as per the update from October 24 of the external statement:

The MPS shows further loyalty to Israel through the recent visit of President Patrick Cramer to the Weizmann Institute starting on November 27, which took place despite internal criticism from MPS members. The visit was intended to celebrate 50 years of the Minerva Fellowship Programme. This government-funded programme is “not only intended to promote research but also to strengthen the cultural and scientific exchange between Germany and Israel.” In an age where academic boycott of Israeli institutions is one of the main ways in which academics can show support for the Palestinian struggle, Germany and the MPS are unable to disentangle their Nazi past from the current events.

In the speech he gave during his visit, Cramer expresses unshakeable support for the Israeli institutions and, while he mentions the need for humanitarian aid to Gaza, fails to recognise the Israeli’s leading role in the unfolding genocide:

(note the use of ”terror in Israel” and ”war in Gaza”).

We are disappointed in the statements and actions of the MPS, which we find misguided from at least 3 perspectives:

1. Diversity and inclusivity at the MPS

The MPS, like many research institutions, has a very diverse and international employee body, and it consistently expresses the importance of diversity in science. However, the communication of the MPS has shown that its alleged support of diversity is limited by not standing in support of Palestinian suffering, not acknowledging the role played by Israel in this conflict, and refusing to consider diverse and dissent opinions. The latter is explicitly stated in their internal statement:

Therefore, the MPS discriminates against its Palestinian members, going against its own code of conduct.

2. Historical selectiveness: 

Both statements released by the MPS and the speech held by the president during his visit to Israel refer to the present events and the historical events in a very selective manner. As already pointed out in this letter, they fail to acknowledge any of the violent attacks and inhumane measures taken by Israel, which are classified as war crimes by the UN. They are also oblivious to the settler-colonial context of the conflict and refuse the right of self-determination of Palestinians, who have been living for decades in an apartheid regime

The MPS offers a long historical background regarding the Holocaust and the shared history the MPS has with Israel and the research institutes in Israel. The events covered by the statement are contemporary to the Palestinian struggle, but the historical background regarding Palestine is omitted. This selective overview of history is used to justify unconditional support of the MPS for the State of Israel and is further alienating any Palestinian member of the MPS. 

The following extract from the speech Cramer gave during his visit is illustrative of the approach the MPS has towards the issue:

3. Conflation of Jewish/Israeli and Palestinian/Hamas

In both of the statements, the MPS is using the words Jewish and Israeli interchangeably, as well as regarding any pro-Palestinian movement as a pro-Hamas one. Both of these confusions are deeply misguided. By equating an ethnic group with a state, government, or political organisation, the autonomy of the group’s individual members is taken away. In this framework, any critique of Israel becomes antisemitism, while the existence of civilian Palestinians is erased. Israel employs this type of rhetoric to bomb Palestinian civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools, indiscriminately. 

This conflation is particularly problematic and in itself antisemitic since there are numerous Jewish organisations worldwide that openly condemn Israel and support the Palestinian struggle (e.g. Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews for Justice for Palestinians).

In light of the above, we urge the MPS to reconsider its position and advocate for a ceasefire and a peace process. We also appeal to the worldwide scientific community to do the same work together towards making science open, inclusive, and safe for everyone. 


Academics in Solidarity with Palestine*

* We are a collective of academics in solidarity with Palestine, with the following aims:

1) express solidarity with the Palestinian cause;

2) document the reaction of academic institutions to the unfolding genocide;

3) investigate the ties between academic institutions and Israel;

4) highlight academics and institutions that support the Palestinian cause;

5) investigate the ties between Israeli academia and the army.

Find more about us here!

Image: Maximilian Dörrbecker / CC BY-SA 2.5

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