His poem was especially brave because he’s German and because he’s vulnerable over his past.
If I take Gunter Grass’s supposedly anti-Israel, anti-Semitic poem “What must be said” literally, I guess I could quibble with a couple of phrases. He says an Israeli attack on Iran “could erase the Iranian people.” An unknowing reader might think Israel is planning to nuke Iran, which isn’t the case, even though there were reports in the past about Israel considering the use of tactical nuclear weapons as “bunker-busting” bombs on the underground nuclear sites. And if we want to take a little poetic license, an Israeli attack could expand in all sorts of directions with all sorts of weaponry and indeed lead to the erasure of the Iranian people, as well as the Israeli people and other people, too. Still, taken literally, that phrase is misleading.
I also have a little problem with the line about how in Iran “the existence of one atomic bomb is not proved but [Israel] wants evidence as a scarecrow.” While it’s true Iran doesn’t have the bomb and, as far as anybody knows, isn’t doing what’s necessary to build it, and while it’s true Israel deliberately distorts and exaggerates every bit of data on Iran’s activities, the prospect of an Iranian nuke is more than a “scarecrow.” Again, misleading.
But aside from those two relatively minor objections, I think I could sign my name to every word in that poem, and so could lots and lots of Jews in Israel and the rest of the world. What’s more, I think what Grass wrote was especially brave because he’s German, and because he’s vulnerable after having revealed six years ago that at the end of World War II, when he was 17, he was drafted into the Waffen SS. (He says he didn’t fire a gun while in the unit.) The Germans and others who resented his left-wing, antiwar preaching used that admission to try to invalidate everything he’d said before, just like Germans, Israelis, American Jewish leaders and others are using that admission to try to invalidate his protest poem against an Israeli war on Iran.
What does the poem say? (I’ve only found one complete English translation, by blogger Alessandro Ghebreigziabiher, but it pretty much matches the brief extracts published in the New York Times and elsewhere, so I think it’s safe to use.)
Grass says he’s fed up with being silent about this looming war, and he thinks there are many other Germans who feel the same way, and if he and others don’t speak out, “we might also become deliverers of a predictable crime, and no excuse would erase our complicity.”
Which opponent of an Israeli attack on Iran can disagree with that sentiment?
He says the “nuclear power of Israel threat[ens] the world peace.” If Israel wasn’t so reckless and arrogant in its military policy, if it didn’t make a habit of attacking foreign countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and, of course, Palestine, not to mention its assaults on a Turkish ship and arms smugglers in Sudan and Dubai, then Israel’s nuclear power wouldn’t threaten world peace, it would just protect Israel. But the way this state behaves, and the way it’s threatening to behave against Iran, it is a nuclear-armed destabilizing force in the Middle East, and that damn sure is a threat to world peace.
What else does Grass say? That he hopes “free and permanent control of the Israeli atomic power and the Iran nuclear bases will be made by both the governments with an international supervision.” What a frightening thought. “Only in this way,” he concludes, “Israelis, Palestinians, and everybody, all people living hostile face to face in that country occupied by the craziness, will have a way out, so us too.” Such a dangerous man, this Gunter Grass.
Netanyahu accused him of drawing a “shameful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran” and denying Israel “the means to defend itself,” which was “perhaps not suprising” since he was once in the Waffen SS. The ADL’s Abraham Foxman also threw Grass’ history at him while saying he’d drawn an “outrageous moral equivalence between Iran and Israel,” and that the poem “indeed suggests he harbors some anti-Semitic beliefs.”
The Israeli Embassy in Berlin went completely off the deep end, saying “it is a European tradition to accuse the Jews before the Passover festival of ritual murder. Earlier, it was Christian children whose blood the Jews allegedly used to make their unleavened bread, but today it is the Iranian people that the Jewish state allegedly wants to annihilate.”
Yeah, heard you. Germans aren’t the only people constrained by the Holocaust from condemning Israeli policies that deserve condemnation. Jews are too – especially when the Israeli/American Jewish establishment decrees that to do so is to side with anti-Semites. Well, screw them – Gunter Grass told the truth, he was brave in telling it, he was brave in admitting that he’d been drafted into the Waffen SS as a teenager, and by speaking out against an Israeli attack on Iran, he’s doing this country a great service at some personal cost while most Israelis and American Jews are safely following the herd behind Bibi over the cliff.
Yeah, really, enough silence.