In 2023, the Science and Technology Cooperation (STC) between Israel and Germany celebrates its 50th anniversary. Cooperation between the two countries in innovation, research and vocational training has reached an intensity that could not have been foreseen in its early days.
This scientific cooperation, which has become ever closer over time, has played a major role in the normalisation of political relations. On the German side, the motive of reparation was initially in the foreground. Today, cooperation and partnership between the two high-tech countries and innovation leaders Israel and Germany are balanced and on an equal footing.
Establishment of diplomatic relations and the beginning of interministerial scientific cooperation
12 May 1965 marks a historic date in the history between the Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Israel: both countries established diplomatic relations on this day.
In the 1970s, interministerial cooperation in science and technology (STC) was launched and continued to deepen: German-Israeli research cooperation between the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) is based on an exchange of letters dating from August/September 1973, while the German-Israeli Programme for Cooperation in Vocational Education and Training has existed since 1969.
From 2000 onwards, this interministerial cooperation was extended to bilateral industrial cooperation based on an agreement between the BMBF and the Israeli Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour (MOITAL, currently: Ministry of Economy and Industry – MOEI).
In 2011, the BMBF and MOEI concluded an intergovernmental agreement on industry-led research and development and on vocational education and training. As part of the German-Israeli government consultations in 2016, both countries signed an agreement on cooperation in applied nanotechnology.
The beginnings of cooperation
Scientific cooperation has existed since the 1950s. Since then, contacts between institutions and scientists involved have steadily grown closer.
Chaim Weizmann (1874 – 1952), the first president of the State of Israel and also the first president of the Weizmann Institute of Science (WIS) named after him, recognised that intelligence is the ‘only raw material we have’. He therefore advocated the creation of a Jewish university in Palestine as early as 1902, which was realised in 1925 with the start of teaching at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI). In 1934, he established the forerunner of the WIS, the Daniel Sieff Institute in Rehovot, modelled on the German Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes. The development of these and other outstanding scientific institutions in Israel was based not least on the immigration of German-Jewish scientists who had been forced to flee Germany in the 1930s.
Before 1933, scientists of German-Jewish origin played an important and often outstanding role in science in Germany and in the entire German-speaking world. The crimes of the National Socialists from 1933 to 1945 put a violent end to this successful work. After the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, the German academic community therefore had the desire to reconnect with these productive times before 1933 and sought cooperation with former Jewish academic colleagues.
Since the early 1950s, there had already been isolated contacts between Germans and Israelis at international conferences. However, the breakthrough did not come until 1959, when a delegation from the Max Planck Society (MPG) was invited by the WIS. In the course of this contact, the opportunity arose to further qualify young German scientists at an outstanding research institution abroad without losing them permanently, as had been observed with the emigration of young scientists to the USA since the 1950s. For their part, the scientists at the WIS – like their colleagues at the Israeli universities later on – hoped to further expand the research infrastructure of their institutions through cooperation with German researchers.
Pillars of cooperation
The contact between the MPG and the WIS marked the beginning of a continuous and, over the years, increasingly solid scientific cooperation between the two countries. An agreement concluded in 1964 emphasised the role of the Minerva Foundation and definitively secured the cooperation between the two major research institutions.
In the field of basic and applied research, the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF) has been funding cooperation projects since 1986. In 1996, the BMBF developed the excellence programme German-Israeli Project Cooperation (DIP) to promote German-Israeli research teams, which has been administered by the German Research Foundation (DFG) since 2008. The Martin Buber Society Foundation Fund has been contributing to cooperation in the humanities and social sciences through scholarships since 2010. The funding organisations DAAD and Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) have been committed to promoting scientific cooperation between the two countries for decades. The same applies to the major German research organisations. The Helmholtz Association, for example, opened a foreign office in Tel Aviv on 22 October 2018.
The Martin Buber Society of Fellows has been contributing to cooperation in the humanities and social sciences through fellowships since 2010. The funding organisations German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) have been committed to promoting academic cooperation between the two countries for decades. The same applies to the major German research organisations. The Helmholtz Association, for example, opened a foreign office in Tel Aviv on 22 October 2018.
Research relations were given a lasting boost in 2008 by the German-Israeli Year of Science and the government consultations that have taken place annually since then.
To further intensify cooperation, a German-Israeli Research Forum was held in Aachen in 2011.
As an associate member of the EU, Israel has been involved in EU research funding since 1996. Israeli companies and research institutions have received funding since the 4th Research Framework Programme and are now cooperating in the current Horizon Europe research framework programme. Germany has been the most important partner for Israel in the research framework programmes to date, including currently in Horizon Europe.