The Max Planck Society must end its unconditional support for Israel

An open letter by employees calls on the MPS to reconsider its stance on Israel in view of Israeli genocidal actions.

Employees of the Max Planck Society

A group of MPS scholars who disagree with the Society’s response to the conflict in Israel-Palestine.

Published On 24 Mar 202424 Mar 2024The entrance of the administrative headquarters of the Max Planck Society in Munich, Germany on May 19, 2007 [Maximilian Dörrbecker/CC via Wikipedia]

We, a diverse group of employees at the Max Planck Society (MPS), Germany’s top research institution, are writing this letter to express our disapproval of the position our employer has taken on Israel-Palestine and call for a serious change in discourse, both within the MPS and in Germany as a whole, about Israel-Palestine.

On October 11, MPS published a “statement on the terror attacks against Israel”, which began with a condemnation of “the horrific attacks by Hamas against Israel in the strongest possible terms”.

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It went on to express solidarity with Israel, grief for Israeli and other lives lost, and sympathy for affected families, friends, and loved ones. It lamented that students, young academics, and other employees of universities and research institutions would be “called up as reservists” and reaffirmed a commitment to maintaining “close scientific and personal ties” with research institutions in Israel, and using those connections to “extend support wherever possible”.

The only sentence that mentioned Palestinians was one that ascribed responsibility for their “unspeakable suffering” not to Israel or the Israeli army, but to Hamas.

The statement did not sit well with numerous employees of the MPS, nor have subsequent statements and actions of the MPS in the past six months.

In November, MPS President Patrick Cramer went on a visit to Israel and the Weizmann Institute of Science and expressed his support for Israeli researchers, but voiced no criticism of the actions of the Israeli army in Gaza. In December, the MPS announced it was allocating one million euros ($1.1m) for German-Israeli research collaboration. The programme seeks “to help stabilise Israel’s world-leading scientific community during the current crisis”.

The way the programme was framed to the public reflects the MPS leadership’s perception that there is only one victim that needs to be supported – the Israeli research community, which allegedly suffers severely as a consequence “of the Hamas attack on Israel” – meaning only the Israeli research community suffers from the relentless war carried out by Israel against Gaza. Why German taxpayers’ money should be spent to stabilise a research community impacted by the actions of its own government remains inexplicable to us.

On the other hand, not a single euro, or indeed word, has been spent on offering any kind of help to the scientific communities in Gaza and the West Bank, which are the primary victims of Israel’s war and policies of violent occupation. According to a statement issued by the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, “the Israeli army has killed 94 university professors, along with hundreds of teachers and thousands of students, as part of its genocidal war against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”.

In February, an article appeared in the German newspaper Die Welt, attacking eminent Lebanese-Australian scholar Ghassan Hage, employed at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, which is part of the MPS. Within a few days, the MPS announced it was firing him for “expressing views that are incompatible with the core values of the Max Planck Society”. Hage had been critical of Israel in his online posts.

An open letter from Max Planck researchers was circulated in protest of Hage’s dismissal, appealing for the reversal of this decision. We support the letter and also stand behind an earlier statement by colleagues published on December 17, criticising the MPS’s stance on Israel-Palestine and asking it to reconsider its position of unconditional support of Israel and its academic institutions in their entirety.

The events of the last months have fully confirmed that such a reconsideration is absolutely necessary. In particular, as members of the MPS, we should not support indiscriminate killings of civilians, massive destruction of civilian infrastructure, and a nearly comprehensive denial of humanitarian conditions for Palestinians in Gaza.

In its declaration of January 26, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) placed Israel under the obligation to undertake all possible measures to protect civilian life in Gaza, to guarantee the provision of basic services and adequate humanitarian aid, and to take all measures to prevent incitement to and acts of genocide. None of this has happened until now. On the contrary, Israel continues its inhumane campaign of annihilation in Gaza without shame.

The participation in the Holocaust of scientists from the MPS’s predecessor, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, obliges us to stand together against all crimes against humanity and the possibility of genocide: “Never again” must be “Never again now”. As inheritors of this legacy, we have four clear demands for a rapid change in the MPS’s position on Israel-Palestine:

To uphold the ICJ´s stipulation to do everything to protect civilians in Gaza, we demand that the MPS call for a complete, unconditional, and immediate ceasefire.

We demand that the MPS take a clear public stance against the long-standing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its violence against the Palestinian people.

We demand that the MPS allocate the same amount dedicated to the Israel Programme, to the reconstruction of scientific institutions in Gaza. This is even more important since all universities in Gaza have now been completely destroyed.

Finally, we demand a public declaration by the MPS as to whether – and if so, in what manner – it has been and continues to be involved in dual-use research, meaning research that can be used for peaceful as well as military purposes, with its academic partners in Israel.

Any continuation of the one-sided and unconditional support of Israeli academic institutions by the MPS threatens to make the MPS and all its members complicit in the crimes committed by Israel in Gaza. We categorically reject this.

In addition to these immediate issues of morality, law, and justice, we, as scholars of the MPS, want to raise some pertinent and long-overdue questions of political and academic relevance:

What are the effects of excluding Palestinians from the MPS’s articulation of its historical relationship with the State of Israel?

How has collaborating with scientists in Israel but not in Palestine shaped the content and contours of the scientific knowledge produced?

How is this collaboration entangled in the formation of structural violence toward Palestinians, whether within Israel, in Gaza, or in the West Bank and East Jerusalem?

In an environment of public censorship and vilification of dissenting voices on this issue in Germany – which motivated us not to sign this letter with our individual names – does the MPS not feel an obligation to foster and actively call for an open and critical dialogue on Palestine-Israel, within the organisation and, more importantly, in the wider German public sphere?

How can we, a large group of internationally diverse researchers living in Germany, help to build bridges, not only between Germany and the State of Israel, but with Palestine too, and in so doing nurture a more peaceful and just future?

These and other questions urgently need to be discussed objectively and critically both within the MPS and the entire academic community in Germany and across the world if further horrific outbreaks of violence, and our complicity in them, are to be prevented in the future.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.