Cooperation with Israel

As the world's leading international research nation, Israel – which in size equals the German federal state of Hesse - has seven universities and a number of government research institutions. The Max Planck Society collaborates with several of these institutions.

Exchange in Israel: Martin Stratmann, President of the Max Planck Society, with Menachem Ben Sasson, President of Hebrew University Jerusalem, and scientists Oded Aharonson in the year 2012 (from left).

One of its key partners is the Weizmann Institute of Science (WIS), which is located in Rehovot, about 20 kilometres south of Tel Aviv. The Max Planck Society has very special historical ties with this institution. The close affiliation is also owed to the institutions' shared focus on basic research. Other collaborative partners of Max Planck institutes include Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, and the Technion in Haifa. In 2013, Max Planck Institutes reported more than 90 collaborations with Israeli partners -  both in the natural sciences as well as the humanities. Many of these collaborations are EU-funded projects in which major international consortia work together.

Two of the twelve international Max Planck Centers worldwide are in Israel. Since 2012, neuroscientists around Max Planck director Tobias Bonhoeffer and Idan Segev, of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, carry out research at the Max Planck Hebrew University Center for Sensory Processing of the Brain in Action. A further Max Planck Center collaborates with the Weizmann Institute in the field of anthropology / archaeology with Jean-Jacques Hublin, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and Steve Weiner WIS as senior research partners.

In addition, in early 2014, with financial support of the Max Planck Foundation, the Max Planck-Weizmann Laboratory for Experimental Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Neurogenetics was inaugurated together with the Weizmann Institute. This laboratory sees a cooperation of Alon Chen, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, and Roni Paz from WIS.  

Foundations of a special collaboration

The beginnings of a scientific collaboration with Israel go back to the late 1950s. "Contact" is how the President of the Max Planck Society, Otto Hahn, at the time referred to the first attempts by German and Israeli researchers after the Holocaust to again find common ground at least in the scientific sector. Together with Feodor Lynen and Wolfgang Gentner, in 1959 he issued an official invitation to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, and just two years later the first German Max Planck scientist spent an extended research residency in Israel. In 1964, the two institutions formalised their cooperation with the conclusion of the first cooperation contract, and in 1967 Israeli scientists were guests at Max Planck Institutes for the first time.

Attempts to forge closer links came at a time when Germany and Israel were understandably still finding it difficult to establish contacts on a broader level. Science was able to make the first moves towards a rapprochement easier, as basic research, which lies at the heart of the principles of nature, embodied something that went beyond any breakdowns in relations, and that was of equal concern for both sides; science helped to deal with a tragedy that seemed to insurmountably separate the Israeli and German peoples. Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt acknowledged this fact in 1973 when he visited the Weizmann Institute of Science with the words: "We started again to be like other peoples when professors not just from America and Russia, not just from France and Poland, but from your country too came to us to work together with us".

Minerva Foundation as flagship of cooperation

Today, the Minerva Foundation, founded in the 1960s as a subsidiary of the Max Planck Society, is the flagship of German-Israeli scientific cooperation. It is financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and works closely with leading universities and research facilities in Israel.

The Minerva-Weizmann Projects Programme has thus promoted projects at the Weizmann Institute of Science since the 1960s.

The rules of quality assurance and of a competitively-based selection of projects and research centers such as the Max Planck Society supports are also applied in Minerva Programmes.

The Minerva Programmes in figures

Celebrating fifty years of scientific cooperation between the MPS and the Weizmann Institute in Berlin: The two Presidents Peter Gruss and Daniel Zajfman (3rd from left) together with the German Federal Research Minister Annette Schavan and the management of Axel Springer AG: Giuseppe Vita (left), Friede Springer and Mathias Döpfner (right). [less]

Up to 80 individual projects receive annual funding as part of the Minerva-Weizmann Projects Programme. The fields of research include physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics and computer science.

1961/62 saw the beginning of the Minerva Fellowship Programme with the research residency of the first German scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. Between 1964 and 1973, financing was increased so that Israeli postdocs were also able to conduct research at Max Planck Institutes and universities in Germany, and the Israeli universities were also included in the exchange programme. In the meantime, the Minerva Foundation awards around 50 fellowships a year. By 2009, 864 Israeli and 921 German scientists had been granted this opportunity. The other measures offered under this programme, such as Short-Term Research Grants, Minerva Schools or Gentner Symposia, are extremely popular in Germany and Israel.

Since 1975, Minerva Research Centers have been established at Israeli universities and the Weizmann Institute of Science, initially in the field of research into German-Jewish history, then later in all areas of natural sciences. In each case, an Israeli Director heads a Minerva Center, so that an area of research can be strengthened in Israel and cooperation with partners in Germany promoted. There are currently more than 20 centers working across all areas of research, including humanities, social and human sciences.

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