Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Honorary Doctorate Jortner

Greeting - Markschies

My dear presidents, deans, colleagues, students and Mr. Jortner, it may come as a surprise to you that, following the acting president of this university who has just spoken, I as designated president will also address you now. Even the impressive decision of two major universities in Berlin to confer an honorary doctorate upon a single person does not justify the presence of three presidents. I would also add that, as a historian and theologian, my understanding of the theoretical modelling of the electron-transportation-process in DNA sequences is poor at best.

That I am addressing you today is much rather due to the fact that, like the chemist we honour today, I have travelled all the way from Tel Aviv to be here, and would like to recognise today’s ceremony as a culmination of Israeli-German scientific relations: as a high point in a common history which began at the lowest possible point imaginable. This dramatic common history has also left strong impressions upon the two universities in Israel with which Joshua Jortner has a close connection: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I am currently a research fellow, and Tel Aviv University.

For those who can look for it, evidence of these impressions remains very visible, even today. When strolling along King George Street in Tel Aviv, visitors inevitably come across the very traditional Antiquariat Pollack. To be more precise: they come upon two different storefronts of the Antiquariat Pollak. In one there are fine, leather-bound editions of classics and exclusive art prints. In the other, there are long wooden shelves holding the remnants of the libraries of scholars who left Europe and were forced to begin anew in Israel. And this is where you can find, now and again, between Jacob Wassermann and Ernst Simon, a small brochure of the Jewish Nationalfond Karen Kayemeth Lejisrael, in which, in words easily comprehensible to German scholars, there is an explanation on how to protect yourself from mosquitoes, how to earn your bread with manual labour if need be, and how to learn a few bits of Iwrit in the process. I do not know whether the Jortner family obtained a comparable polish brochure in 1940. I do know however, that the sentence heard over and over in Israel, that the Hebrew University is the most German university in the Middle East, as is the one in Tel Aviv to a lesser degree, is only a very limited reflection of reality. Everyone who has taught or studied in Jerusalem since 1925, or in Tel Aviv since 1956, has learned to deal with the specific circumstances and history of the country by reading such brochures and other sources. The necessity, of developing a particular form of energy which is resistant to disappointment and lends itself to a hands-on way of life, in order to survive, distinguishes many Israeli colleagues who I know well from German professors in a fundamental way. If I see things correctly, it is this special kind of energy which has enabled a great number of Israeli scientists and scholars to become staunch advocates of peaceful understanding among peoples. Joshua Jortner – as, for example, President of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities – has fervently spoken out for the cooperation across borders which he calls “second track diplomacy,” and has defended it against criticism. For Jortner, “second track Diplomacy” means avoiding the politicisation of science and ensuring that the scientific cooperation which brings people together answers only to scientific standards. In this way, it can help overcome political boundaries and reduce large conflicts.

German universities (and those in Berlin especially) are also in desperate need of this kind of energy that is resistant to disappointment and has a hands-on component, so that we can better meet our current challenges. Because you, Mr. Jortner, are so closely associated with the universities of Berlin and have such a presence in the city, we happily do not need to rummage through the Antiquariat Pollak in Tel Aviv to find one of the brochures that I mentioned. Instead, we can use you as a role model. By conferring honorary doctorates from both universities on you, we are also honouring your dedication to Israeli-German scientific relations. I assure you that we are determined to resolutely build these relations not only at the Institute for Chemistry, but throughout our universities.

Prof. Dr. Christoph Markschies
Berlin, 11. November 2005