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More power to Gunter Grass for 'What must be said'

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.

More on this issue:
Günter Grass, persona non grata in Israel
Despite Israeli charges, Gunter Grass is not an anti-Semite

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    1. Jack

      “The ADL’s Abraham Foxman also threw Grass’ history at him while saying he’d drawn an “outrageous moral equivalence between Iran and Israel,” ”

      Such statements again insinute that are Israel above other states. Remember Israel have the most moral army according to themselves, a myth just like Israel trying to maintain that they are not a threat myth. This grandiose self glorification is part of the problem and why Israel is a threat since alot in the gov. think they are superior to others.

      Reply to Comment
    2. directrob

      “He says an Israeli attack on Iran “could erase the Iranian people.” ”
      “the existence of one atomic bomb is not proved but [Israel] wants evidence as a scarecrow.”
      In the poem he DOES NOT use those phrases. As far as I can see there is no way to interpret the poem that way. Someone trusted google translate way too much.
      He does write that the (suppressed) Iranian people could become the victim of a first strike (caused by the loud-mouth leadership) and he does complain that German Dolphin submarines could be used to bomb suspected nuclear bombs.
      I think Larry that when you get a good translation you would support Grass even more.

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    3. Dorothy

      Mr. Derfner there is another attempt at translation at MoonofAlabama.org which you should read. There is no word “scarecrow” in that translation and it reads, on the whole better than the one you link which imho is a botched job. Grass should put out a decent translation pronto.

      Reply to Comment
    4. caden

      The waffen SS was a volunteer organization

      Reply to Comment
    5. Nikki

      Im half german… most the jews have been dupped in supporting israel/zoinist/ so have christains…they have all been scapegaoted and the zoinist jews KNEW that would happen…. do not blame them…they have been terribly brainwashed by its government. Most good jews Oppose the state of israel and the zoinist agenda. Zoinism is another world for jewish supremicy / racist ideology…..they hae DEFFINATLY been brainwashed!..it is just a matter of time…poeple need to wake up and jews need to stand up!…possibly i would suggest getting the hell out of israel… Israel has nuclear bombs and n bomb etc…its really for defense agiants anyone who is unsupportive of israel nad and country that finally see’s thru them. Thye are a threat to humanity…

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    6. Rika Chaval

      DIRECTROB, apparently you are not a german speaker. I happen to be one.

      Here is the piece where Grass says Israels claim to be entitled to a preventive hit it could wipe-out ( auslöschen) the Iranian people, which is being repressed and directed to orchestrated praise by a bigmouth, because of the assumption that a nuclear bomb is being built under his ( the bigmouths’) authority.

      Es ist das behauptete Recht auf den Erstschlag,
      der das von einem Maulhelden unterjochte
      und zum organisierten Jubel gelenkte
      iranische Volk auslöschen könnte
      weil in dessen Machtbereich der Bau
      einer Atombombe vermutet wird.

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    7. Nikki

      israel had no right to take land away and genocide the Palestinians….do unto them as hitler did to you huh? israel??.. I dont ga flying isreali WHAT this german man said in his poem….like the damn headline said! “WHAT MUST BE SAID” everyone is aware anyone who talks agianst isreal is branded as antisemite…People who have voice isreals war crimes.. they cry ANTISMEMITSIM…lol get over yourself israel… I have nothing agisnt the good jews… we have alot here who oppose the jewish state/zoinism and its war crimes CRY antisemite will you??…call your OWN people antisemites…lol

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    8. Nikki


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    9. Nikki

      Im not sure i buy it that isreal would beable to wipe out iran.A freind of mine says isreal is too small and needs support…it makes sense because they are always trying to get everyone else to do its dirty work…also why do you think all the US president have sworn to protect isreal….becuase its small and need other poeple help…lol atleast this is what my friend of mine says…by the way no country need to protect isreal and is not obligated to…but this somehow has become habit.

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    10. klang

      If we listen to Larry, we could conclude that the family in Toulouse had it coming.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Curly


      Nikki, your paternalism and condescension is astonishing. Most of us poor Jews have been “duped” by the evil ideology of Zionism which is all about racial supremacy — but fear not! There are still “good Jews”, Jews who are obedient and quietly subservient to the dictates of your guilty conscience. Well, Nikki, I won’t let that nonsense stand.

      We Jews are human beings. We have agency of our own – a capacity to think for ourselves and make good, and often bad, decisions. We have chosen to adhere to Zionism not because we were duped, or fooled, or coerced, but because it is the natural expression of our fundamental human desire to be free. To have a state of our own, to exercise our right to self-determination as all of the peoples of the world do. And that is what Zionism is – the movement of the Jewish people for freedom and self-determination. Your obsession with questions of race and supremacy reflects only your own default pattern of thought and preconceptions – which you then project onto us.

      Well thank you Nikki, for your kind concern. But please, keep your twisted obsession with racial superiority to yourself – and more importantly, spare us your false pity and concern. We don’t want or need it, and resent your colonialistic paternalism.

      Kind regards,

      A free Jew.

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    12. eduardo

      Grass was born 1927.
      When the war was started he was 12.
      When he was captured he was 17, afaik.
      Need to say more ?

      You all, do yoursef a favor and make an effort to
      understand the German people, their soul.
      You might be surprised and find that propaganda
      has misled you. They are a wonderful people.

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    13. Eduardo

      If I may help with the translation.
      ‘jux primer noctis’ was the right of the Duke to go to bed with any virgin, the night of her marriage with some peasant, in the middle ages.

      Grass puts the ‘right’ for preventive strikes into the context of this jus primer noctis – an immoral right, simply based on power.
      You could also read the ‘fable the wulf and the lamb’ to understand what
      he is expressing.

      Following that, he states that the people of Iran are lead by demagogues, and that they cannot be held responsible for the actions of their leaders;
      and therefore a nuclear strike would be immoral and absurd.

      All this is stated as the framework to say that the German government should not send military weapons that make a nuclear first strike liklier.

      Nowhere anything anti-semitc to be found.

      Some jewish leaders may claim the ‘jus primer noctis’, and Grass says, do not do this.
      Do not forget that it cost John the Baptist his head, when he told Herold, that it was unlawful to have his brother’s wife.
      But we still think that John was right to speak the truth.

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    14. caden

      Sure, the Germans are wonderful. Except for that litte interlude 1933-45

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    15. aristeides

      Caden – you are wrong. The SS originated as an elite, volunteer organization, but by the end of the war, it was part of the conscription pool and many teenagers like Grass were drafted into it.

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    16. Dorothy

      CADEN-according to what I read the WaffenSS was not voluntary at the time Grass went in.

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    17. caden

      Not true, But be that has it may I think you lose the right to be critical of Israel if you’ve ever been in the SS. I think that’s an ok redline

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    18. aristeides

      Not true? Caden, this is a matter of fact. Look it up.

      And I think that conscripted service in the armed forces of the Nazi state might provide a valuable experience on which to judge Israel. I suspect those Israelis who read the account of young Grass’s conscription might find some things quite familiar.

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    19. caden

      I think you should lose the Israel=Nazi Germany analogies. And the Waffen SS was a volunteer organization that required a certain belief system. But suppose you and Dorothy are right. In this instance I don’t care. I think that when you’ve worn the uniform of the SS. And btw we have only his word that he was conscripted. You lose the right to say anything about Jews and Israel.

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    20. Piotr Berman

      “Sure, the Germans are wonderful. Except for that litte interlude 1933-45”

      More precisely, Germans are wonderful when they keep their mouth shut and supply weapons. On the other hand, from that perspective it is hard to see how Grass “lost the right to be critical of Israel” if he never had this right. Nobody does. This is the true “redline”.

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    21. Marc

      Larry, you might call it minor objections. As a German, I can neither ignore the specific words he used, since as a writer he surely chose them purposefully, nor can I ignore the context of his own story. You chose to minimize them to make your case. To me, both matter and make this poem very unfortunate. I am also against a war, but I truly hope that Grass won’t be the poster child of the anti-War movement. We have better allies in this.

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    22. aristeides

      Marc – as a German-speaker, which specific words do you find particularly unfortunate? This is a case where I don’t want to rely on translation, and my own German lacks nuance.

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    23. david

      There goes Larry Derfner again, always making excuses for the enemies of Israel.

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    24. Luis

      I am neither German, Jew, Muslim nor Christian. True courage and truth in Gunther Grass Poem, specially coming from a German.

      It is worth a Nobel Prize.

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    25. Maya

      If it is so difficult for Grass to keep quiet about a looming war between Iran and Israel than why wouldn’t turn his critique against his govornment and its allies in NATO for their failure to prevent the Iranian atomic program so far? True, Israel should not attack Iran. It’s the responsibility of Germany and its allies in NATO to make sure that Iran does not reach anywhere near having atomic weapons. If it comes to that that Israel attacks it is because of Germany’s failure. So, if Grass was really so anxious to say something about the prospect of war between Iran and Israel, this is what he should have said.

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    26. Bruno

      Um, yeah, a retired Waffen SS member shouldn’t get to ridicule Israel in public, no matter how valid some of his points are. It’s tacky to say the least; it can’t help but relieve him of a bit of the existential shame and guilt he should feel until the day he dies.

      That said, for how many more years or decades will Israel enjoy moral and political exceptionalism because of the heinous barbarism inflicted on the Jewish people over 60 years ago? 

      Five, ten, twenty more years? Once every WW2-era German and every Holocaust survivor has been dead for years? 

      At what point will it be acceptable to judge Israel’s behavior by international norms?

      I’m a supporter of Israel – and I don’t see them as a threat to world peace anywhere close to Iran – but there is a real issue here worth confronting. I can criticize my nation’s policies without being labeled “anti-American.”

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    27. Jack

      Please let us now why Iran and not Israel is a threat to world?

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    28. Leen

      Bruno, he’s hardly a Waffen SS veteran, he was conscripted into the war at age 17. If you were a German male between the age of 13-18 during 1940-1945, I would be VERY surprised if you weren’t either in the SS or the army or on the front lines.

      Reserve that hatred for the real Nazi war criminals, not for the boys who were barely 18 on the front lines.

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    29. caden

      Bruno, I think that if Israel could be judged by the standards that apply to other nations they would be very happy. Very happy indeed.

      Leen, I’m sorry, Anybody who wore the uniform of the SS doesn’t get to make moral judgments about anything Israel does.

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    30. Jack

      “Leen, I’m sorry, Anybody who wore the uniform of the SS doesn’t get to make moral judgments about anything Israel does.”

      Please. Like saying, anyone wearing or have wored an IDF uniforum have no right to speak on anything palestinians do.

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    31. caden

      Jack, if you think that the IDF and the SS belong on the same planet, much less the same galaxy, you really need to pick up a history book.

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    32. aristeides

      There are plenty of IDF members who have committed worse atrocities than some SS members. Jack is quite right.

      The SS thing in Grass’s case is just a convenient handle for bashing anyone who objects to Israeli warmongering. And it’s clear from Caden’s ignorant statements that he ought to be the one to pick up the history book.

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    33. Leen

      ‘Leen, I’m sorry, Anybody who wore the uniform of the SS doesn’t get to make moral judgments about anything Israel does.’

      You seem to ignore my entire post. It’s called a TOTALITARIAN STATE.

      This actually reminds me of Jung Chang, a Chinese writer who lived during Mao’s cult of personality and was in the Red Guards. She participated in the cultural revolution which we all know was persecution of others. Though She has admitted she was merely 15 and was brainwashed as all others and if she did not participate, there was a good chance she would have been dead.
      Same thing with the Waffen SS during 1940-1945.

      Listen mate, Grass was 17, like I said, if he was around 25, then I would question why on earth he participated with the SS, however, it becomes more obvious how he got involved if you ever have a look at his memoir.

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    34. Jack

      You see here is the problem. You think that your suffering is above all. You cant have monopoly of suffering, you cant compare suffering.

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    35. Why is Israel allowed ro develop nuclear weapons and not be subject to inspection whereas Iran is not allowed to their right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purpose. The concensus among non-political experts are there are no evidence Iran is developing any weapons.

      Just treat Iran and Israel to same standards and avoid the nuclear brinkmanship which will cause catastrophe to our civilization and children. The world does not belong to the Jews nor Muslims nor Americans. Peace will be serve better if nations are treated equally.

      Gunter is not Anti-semite. His criticism is directed on the hypocracy of German and Western Governments.

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    36. @Caden

      “I’m sorry, Anybody who wore the uniform of the SS doesn’t get to make moral judgments about anything Israel does.”

      Most if not all of us have never worn a SS uniform but I totally agree with Gunter. Does that make me a Anti-Semite? What credentials do I need to agree with Gunter without being a Anti-Semite?

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    37. Finding the Likud program reprovable, Netanyahu a criminar, demanding accountability from a nation-state or calling for justice in light of crimes makes you into an antisemite? Encouraging the public to speak up and not allowed themselves to be bullied by charges of genocidal racism is genocidal racism? This is more Israeli chicanery and neurosis. This is very good for Netanyahu who build his entire career feeding on antisemitism.
      This is my post on the Gunter Grass affair: http://theradicalsecularist.com/gunter-grass-is-right/

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    38. caden

      It makes you an advocate for the destruction of Israel. Not exactly a pro-Jewish position. But how about this. Don’t spout off if your an SS VETERAN. You don’t have that right. You lost that when you became part of an organization that was dedicated to the extermination of Jews. And came close to achieving that. Is that too much to ask.

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    39. Luis


      Advocating equal treatment on Israel’s nuclear weapons program is not the same as advocating for the destruction of Israel.

      If true as you said, the western governments are advocating for the destruction of Iran. Hence the western hypocracy as mentioned on Gunter’s poem.

      Reply to Comment
    40. caden

      If any country needs nuclear weapons its Israel. We all know that Iran is going to have the bomb. Then you’ve got a nuclear arms race touched off in the middle east. An area where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a terrorist group. But nothing can possibly go wrong there. But leaving that aside I, and I think 99.9% of Jews agree with me on this, don’t want or need moral judgments from a fucking veteran of the WAFFEN SS..

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    41. caden

      f any country needs nuclear weapons its Israel. We all know that Iran is going to have the bomb. Then you’ve got a nuclear arms race touched off in the middle east. An area where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a terrorist group. But nothing can possibly go wrong there. But leaving that aside I, and I think 99.9% of Jews agree with me on this, don’t want or need moral judgments from a veteran of the WAFFEN SS..

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    42. Jack

      Here we see the use of supremacism being again. Israel have the right. No one else.
      In fact Israel have no use for its nukes, nukes havent scared off any war wars. And since Israel have nukes the arms race have already begun. Israel is clearly a destabilizing factor in the world.

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    43. Luis


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    44. aristeides

      Ah, Caden shifts his position! Now, instead of being about what moral rights Germans might have, it’s about what Jews might need or want.

      The thing is, Grass isn’t speaking to Jews. He’s speaking to Germans. So what Jews might need or want in this case is totally irrelevant.

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    45. Leen

      People who were conscripted in Waffen SS after 1943 were exempted from being tried as war criminals, this include Grass as he was conscripted during 1943.

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    46. Piotr Berman

      “An area where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a terrorist group.”

      Seems that what Israel needs are not nukes but more dead cats.

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    47. JG

      “Jack, if you think that the IDF and the SS belong on the same planet, much less the same galaxy, you really need to pick up a history book.”

      The last time I checked astronomical and evolutionary facts both were humans living on the third planet of our solar system. And my history book says nothing about an alien Nazi invasion back then.
      Though many germans act in the aftermath like these were others that came from another dimension.

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    48. @CADEN “If any country needs nuclear weapons its Israel. We all know that Iran is going to have the bomb. Then you’ve got a nuclear arms race touched off in the middle east. An area where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a terrorist group.”

      I see it differently. While all countries should not have nuclear weapons, specially Israel should not have nuclear weapons. Not because I am anti-Israel but because Israel thinks herself justified to have and use it.

      Reply to Comment
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