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Germany: Is Günter Grass an anti-Semite?

Germany’s most famous living writer has “triggered a furious row with a poem criticizing Israel.”

Germany’s most famous living writer has “triggered a furious row with a poem criticizing Israel,” said Luke Harding and Harriet Sherwood in The Guardian (U.K.). Günter Grass, the Nobel Prize winner once touted as Germany’s “moral conscience,” published “What Must Be Said” last week in several German newspapers. The poem warns that Israel is planning a nuclear strike on Iran, and it calls for both countries to be stripped of their nuclear capabilities. Grass, who only admitted a few years ago that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS, an elite Nazi military unit, acknowledged that he could be accused of anti-Semitism, but said he had to speak out to prevent Israel from committing a monstrous crime. The reaction has been global. Israel responded by declaring Grass persona non grata, Iranians praised him, and German newspapers devoted pages to pillorying him.

Grass “has always been prone to delusions of grandeur,” said Henryk Broder in Die Welt (Germany), “but now he is completely nuts.” He dismisses Iran’s repeated threats to wipe out Israel as the empty words of a “loudmouth.” Yet he asserts without evidence that Israel is the region’s great threat to peace and that he alone has the courage to say so. Such distorted thinking is common among Germany’s anti-Semitic intellectuals. “Haunted by guilt and shame,” they want to change history, but the only way they can do so is by “consigning Israel to history.” Exactly, said Mathias Döpfner in Bild (Germany). Grass is trying to “relieve the guilt of the Germans” by forcing a false equivalency “and making the Jews into perpetrators.” He called his autobiography Peeling the Onion. Well, now we’ve gotten to the core of his onion—and it is “brown and smells rotten.”

And yet Grass does have a point, said Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz (Israel). “It can and should be said that Israel’s policy is endangering world peace.” It’s also perfectly legitimate to oppose Israeli nuclear power. Yes, Grass went too far in alleging that Israel would annihilate Iran. But maybe that’s a result of the oppressive atmosphere surrounding discussions of Israel in Germany, where all criticism has been considered “illegitimate and improper.” When it finally comes out, it “erupts in an extreme form.” That’s why it would be best for Germans to give themselves permission, at long last, to criticize Israel as a friend, without fear of being maligned.

The allegation that Israel is planning to use nuclear weapons against Iran isn’t some minor detail in the poem, said The Jerusalem Post in an editorial. It’s the main theme, and it is as outrageous as it is libelous. Israel did not use nuclear weapons “even during periods of existential threat,” such as the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Yet Grass concocted this lie and then claimed that he remained silent until now “because he knew he would be labeled an anti-Semite.” Well, yes. “What else can be said” about a former SS soldier who insists that Israel must give up its weapons? “Jews have ample unpleasant experiences of what it is to be powerless in the face of our enemies.”

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