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The Max Planck Society must end its unconditional support for Israel

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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”.

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.

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NPR editor resigns after accusing US outlet of liberal bias

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Uri Berliner quits broadcaster days after being suspended over essay accusing network of lacking viewpoint diversity.

A senior editor at a public broadcaster in the United States who accused his employer of liberal bias, igniting heated debate about standards in journalism, has resigned.

Uri Berliner, an editor with National Public Radio (NPR), announced his resignation on Wednesday just over a week after he published an essay accusing the outlet of being fixated on race and identity and lacking “viewpoint diversity”.

“I am resigning from NPR, a great American institution where I have worked for 25 years. I don’t support calls to defund NPR. I respect the integrity of my colleagues and wish for NPR to thrive and do important journalism,” Berliner said in a resignation letter posted on X.

“But I cannot work in a newsroom where I am disparaged by a new CEO whose divisive views confirm the very problems at NPR I cite in my Free Press essay.”

My resignation letter to NPR CEO @krmaher pic.twitter.com/0hafVbcZAK

— Uri Berliner (@uberliner) April 17, 2024

NPR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Berliner’s resignation came after NPR on Friday slapped the editor with a five-day suspension without pay in response to his essay calling out the network.

In the essay published in The Free Press, Berliner argued that the outlet had lost the public’s trust by putting a progressive slant on coverage of major news stories, including the COVID-19 pandemic and claims that Donald Trump colluded with Russia.

“There’s an unspoken consensus about the stories we should pursue and how they should be framed,” Berliner wrote.

“It’s frictionless – one story after another about instances of supposed racism, transphobia, signs of the climate apocalypse, Israel doing something bad and the dire threat of Republican policies. It’s almost like an assembly line.”

Berlinera also cited voter registration data that he said showed there were 87 Democrats and no Republicans on staff at the outlet’s Washington, DC, headquarters.

Berliner’s essay promoted public pushback from NPR employees, including recently-appointed CEO Katherine Maher, whose own views came under scrutiny after conservatives surfaced old tweets expressing progressive views.

“Asking a question about whether we’re living up to our mission should always be fair game: after all, journalism is nothing if not hard questions,” Maher said in a memo to staff that was also published online.

“Questioning whether our people are serving our mission with integrity, based on little more than the recognition of their identity, is profoundly disrespectful, hurtful, and demeaning.”

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More than 11,000 evacuated in northern Indonesia as Ruang volcano erupts

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Authorities further extend exclusion zone after volcano sends ash and smoke more than two kilometres into the sky.

More than 11,000 people have been told to evacuate from around the Ruang volcano in northern Indonesia amid fears it could collapse causing a tsunami, after erupting multiple times.

Mount Ruang, located in in North Sulawesi Province, first erupted at 9:45pm (13:45 GMT) on Tuesday sending billowing clouds of smoke and ash high into the sky.

After four more eruptions on Wednesday, Indonesia’s volcanology agency raised the alert level for the 725-metre (2,379-foot) high mountain to four, the highest on the scale.

They also widened the exclusion zone around the crater from four kilometres (2.5 miles) to six kilometres (3.7 miles).

More than 800 people were evacuated initially from Ruang to nearby Tagulandang Island, which is located more than 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of the provincial capital, Manado.

But officials said on Thursday morning that more people would need to be evacuated as a result of the widening exclusion zone, and would be taken to Manado.

“At least 11,615 residents who are in the risk area must evacuate to a safe place,” Abdul Muhari, the head of the disaster agency’s disaster data, communications and information centre was quoted as saying by the Kompas newspaper.

Officials also worry that part of the volcano could collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami as it did during a previous eruption in 1871.

Video footage showed flows of red lava streaming down the mountain, reflected in the waters below, and billowing clouds of grey ash above Ruang’s crater.

Muhammad Wafid, the head of Indonesia’s geological agency, earlier said Ruang’s initial eruption sent an ash column two kilometres (1.2 miles) into the sky, with the second eruption pushing it to 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles).

The volcanology agency said volcanic activity had increased at Ruang after two earthquakes in recent weeks.

Indonesia, which sits along the ‘Ring of Fire’, a horseshoe-shaped series of tectonic fault lines around the Pacific Ocean, has 120 active volcanoes.

In 2018, the eruption of Indonesia’s Anak Krakatoa volcano triggered a tsunami along the coasts of Sumatra and Java after parts of the mountain fell into the ocean. Hundreds of people were killed.

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Russia-Ukraine war: List of key events, day 784

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As the war enters its 784th day, these are the main developments.

Rescue workers at the site of a collapsed building in Chernihiv. There is an excavator at the front on top of the rubble. The buildings, which are several stories high. are behind.

Rescue workers at the site of Wednesday’s missile attack on Chernihiv [Genya Savilov/AFP]

Here is the situation on Thursday, April 18, 2024.

Fighting

  • At least 17 people were killed in the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv after it was struck by three Russian missiles. Emergency services said 60 people, including three children, were injured. About 250,000 people live in Chernihiv, which is about 150km (90 miles) north of the capital, Kyiv.
  • One woman was injured by falling debris after Russian forces brought down a done over the Voronezh region. Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said air defence also destroyed 14 airborne targets over the southern Belgorod region. No injuries were reported.
  • The BBC reported the number of Russian soldiers killed in the war in Ukraine had topped 50,000. The data was compiled by BBC Russian, independent media group Mediazona and volunteers.
  • Colonel Serhii Pakhomov, acting head of the Ukrainian military’s atomic, biological and chemical defence forces, told the Reuters news agency that Kyiv had recorded about 900 uses of riot control agents on the front line by Russia in the past six months. The gases, banned for use on the battlefield by the international Chemical Weapons Convention, are being used to try and clear trenches, Pakhomov said. Some 500 troops had required medical help after exposure to toxic substances on the battlefield and at least one soldier died after suffocating on tear gas, he added.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Ukrainian military attacked a large Russian airfield at Dzhankoi in the north of occupied Crimea. A series of explosions were reported at the base. There were no reports of damage.

Politics and diplomacy

  • US House Speaker Mike Johnson said the House would hold a long-delayed vote on a $60bn aid package for Ukraine on Saturday. The bill, passed by the Senate in February, has been held up amid objections from far-right members of Johnson’s Republican party.
  • Writing in the Wall Street Journal, US President Joe Biden urged Congress to approve the package saying the conflict was at a “pivotal moment”.
  • China said that “a lot of work” would need to be done before a planned peace conference on the Ukraine war could take place in Switzerland. It did not say whether it would attend the meeting, which is expected to take place in June.
  • Russia’s FSB security service arrested four people, accusing them of sending money to Ukrainian armed forces and planning to join the country’s military.
  • France appointed investigating magistrates to run a war crimes investigation into the death of Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, a dual French-Irish national, who was killed covering the war in Ukraine in March 2022. Producer Oleksandra Kuvshynova was also killed when the news team’s vehicle came under fire in Horenka near Kyiv. Correspondent Benjamin Hall was badly injured.
  • Cybersecurity firm Mandiant warned a cyber group known as Sandworm, with links to Russian military intelligence, is emerging as a significant global threat after playing an increasingly critical role in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Sandworm “is actively engaged in the full spectrum of espionage, attack, and influence operations”, Mandiant said.

Weapons

  • President Zelenskyy, addressing the European Council by videolink hours after the Chernihiv attack, pleaded for more defence systems. Zelenskyy said Ukraine should enjoy the same cover from aerial attacks as Israel, which was able to intercept a barrage of drones and missiles fired by Iran last weekend. “Our Ukrainian sky, the sky of our neighbours deserves the same level of defence,” he said. “All lives are equally valuable.”
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other senior German officials pressed fellow European Union members to take action as soon as possible to boost Ukraine’s air defences. On Saturday, Germany announced it was sending an additional Patriot air defence system to Ukraine.
  • NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the NATO-Ukraine Council will meet on Friday to discuss ways on how to provide more air defence systems for Kyiv.
  • A crowdfunding initiative launched by a Slovak group on Monday has so far raised 750,000 euros ($798,000) from members of the public. The group, Peace for Ukraine, hopes to raise one million euros ($1.07 million) for the Czech Republic’s initiative to buy ammunition for Ukraine. Slovakia’s government has refused to send military aid to Kyiv.


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