Europe’s largest organization for applied research, the Fraunhofer Society (Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft), will collaborate with the well-known Israeli industrialist and billionaire Stef Wertheimer to gain access to leading Israeli researchers and companies. Based in Munich, Germany, Fraunhofer hopes that the partnership will expose the organization to potential collaborative efforts between innovative Israeli companies and skilled Society researchers.
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Werthemier and the Israel connection
In order to further cooperation, Fraunhofer and the Lavon industrial park in Israel’s northern Galilee region signed a letter of intent to establish a joint communications platform between Israeli companies in the park and the organization’s scientists and institutions. The connection between the Lavon industrial park and Fraunhofer’s relationship with Wertheimer is not coincidental—the German native is the owner of the Lavon industrial park, as well as four other industrial parks in Israel, that generate up to $1 billion in combined revenue. Both Fraunhofer and Wertheimer hope that this cooperative effort will help launch joint research projects, organize scientist exchanges, and intensify the educational transfer between the institutions.
Prof. Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer -Gesellschaft, commented on the agreement in a statement: ”Israel is one of the most innovative countries in the world. As a location for technology-oriented companies, Israel is particularly well-known for its many successful startups. Fraunhofer has had ties with the country for many years.” Regarding the collaboration with Wertheimer, Neugebauer continued, “Our partnership with an industrialist of Stef Wertheimer’s caliber, who is so highly regarded in Israel and Germany, will bring this exchange to a new level.”
An end to the academic boycott?
The effort to bridge between Israeli and European researchers and innovators made by a worthwhile institution like Fraunhofer may signal the end of a decade of boycotts against Israeli academic institutions. In recent years, Israeli researchers have urged their scientific collages to refuse offers for submissions to European journals, due to what is perceived by many as politically-driven academic bias against Israelis. Yet the latest move by Fraunhofer to draw closer to the Israeli innovation scene (the Society already has a partnership with Hebrew University) may suggest that the European scientific establishment is ready to cooperate again with Israeli brains. But before getting too hopeful, Wertheimer makes clear that the prominent German society won’t be entirely separating science from politics: “good education and good jobs are major contributors to stability in our region, partnerships like this will hopefully give a boost to the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis.”
Despite the possible implications of such political goals on Fraunhofer funding in Israel, Europe’s leading applied research society enters the market as another foundation importantly changes its funding guidelines. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation confirmed reports that beginning in 2015, all funded researchers will have to publish their studies with open access publications, making it possible for anyone to gain access to their work as well as for commercial use of their findings. What may seem like a blessing for science students is a nightmare for many scientists in Israel and the world who value the exclusivity and seriousness of access-controlled scientific publications. Israel in particular has seen many of its researchers turn to the Gates Foundation, one of the world’s largest foundations for grants and funding, but due to the changes in policy and now that Fraunhofer is an official option, more Israeli scientists may decide to put their eggs in the European basket.