Grass Told to Stay Off
Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai has barred Germany’s preeminent poet laureate, Günter Grass, from ever setting foot in the Jewish state in the turbulent wake of a 69-line poem he titled “What Must Be Said” published in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Grass heavily focused on what he called “Western hypocrisy,” referring to Israel’s nuclear weapons and the Iranian race to acquire the capability of making one. As soon as the piece—“Was gesagt werden muss” in the original German—was published, critics assailed it for what they perceived as the hypocrisy of the author himself, who had hidden his own past as a Waffen-SS member as a 17-year-old.
The response from the state of Israel, extreme though anticipated, followed in the form of an order by the interior ministry that the octogenarian ex-Nazi who also happens to be the most famous living German writer immediately would be persona non grata.
Reactions among Israelis not affiliated with the Netanyahu regime were less stark and more circumspect, acknowledging that the messenger’s history tainted the message, which called for “an unhindered and permanent control of the Israeli nuclear arsenal and the Iranean [sic] nuclear complexes by an international authority will be allowed by the governments of both countries,” according to a translation here.
Tom Segev, the renowned Israeli historian, was quoted by New York Times Jerusalem correspondent Ethan Bronner as saying, referring to his government’s decision to bar entry to Grass on the basis of the written work, “It’s very unpleasant because it moves us in the direction of countries like Iran and Syria that apparently give out entry permits according to people’s political views.”
In the piece, Grass seemed to acknowledge what was coming, writing that pointing out the fact that Israel is threatening to bomb Iran because of a nuclear program when in fact the Israeli nuclear arsenal is well-referenced, most notably and recently by Avner Cohen in his book “The Worst-Kept Secret,” Grass said the “verdict” of any such analysis—coming from someone with his personal history as part of an organization that led the extermination campaign against European Jewry, no less—would be known as antisemitism: “das Verdikt ‘Antisemitismus’ ist geläufig.”
“The discussion in Germany over Mr. Grass’s poem has in large part revolved around the question of whether it is possible for Germans to criticize Israel,” reported Nicholas Kulish for the Times article, “which Mr. Grass’s critics call a straw man” and a disguise for Jew-hatred. The pipe-smoking 84-year-old writer’s motive for speaking out against Netanyahu, which he later said he should have made specific, is a Rorschach test that appears different depending on who looks at it.
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