“Pampering Israel, the land of the Jews, seems to be the way to atone for the sins of the Holocaust. The horrific injustice done to Jews by the Nazis, which can never be condoned, has led to a dangerous politics of victim-hood. The Jew is the prototypical victim, so the blessed land of the Jews, Israel, is above criticism. … Maybe we need to … take a good look at reality. Criticising the policies of Israel is not about hating Jews, it is not anti-Semitism. Fobbing off legitimate criticism of Israel by labelling it anti-Semitic is a shrewd ploy to censor disapproval.” – Antara Dev Sen
“This is the time for the people who want to save me … to get to know themselves, through me.” That was little Oskar in The Tin Drum. Now, his comment fits his creator Gunter Grass just as well. Being the voice of conscience for Germany, if not for all of humanity in a violent age, has never been easy for Grass.
He has been repeatedly attacked and abused by lesser mortals who wished to shut out the moral sense he was banging on about much like Oskar on his little drum. And his poem What Must Be Said published last week has unleashed a volley of vicious personal attacks, labelling him an anti-Semite, an enemy of the Jews, a neo-Nazi apart from also being a senile old fool. Here is the poem, translated by Heather Horn for The Atlantic:
What Must Be Said
Why do I stay silent, conceal for too long
What clearly is and has been
Practiced in war games, at the end of which we as survivors
Are at best footnotes.
It is the alleged right to first strike
That could annihilate the Iranian people–
Enslaved by a loud-mouth
And guided to organized jubilation–
Because in their territory,
It is suspected, a bomb is being built.
Yet why do I forbid myself
To name that other country
In which, for years, even if secretly,
There has been a growing nuclear potential at hand
But beyond control, because no inspection is available?
The universal concealment of these facts,
To which my silence subordinated itself,
I sense as incriminating lies
And force–the punishment is promised
As soon as it is ignored;
The verdict of “anti-Semitism” is familiar.
Now, though, because in my country
Which from time to time has sought and confronted
Its very own crime
That is without compare
In turn on a purely commercial basis, if also
With nimble lips calling it a reparation, declares
A further U-boat should be delivered to Israel,
Whose specialty consists of guiding all-destroying warheads to where the existence
Of a single atomic bomb is unproven,
But as a fear wishes to be conclusive,
I say what must be said.
Why though have I stayed silent until now?
Because I thought my origin,
Afflicted by a stain never to be expunged
Kept the state of Israel, to which I am bound
And wish to stay bound,
From accepting this fact as pronounced truth.
Why do I say only now,
Aged and with my last ink,
That the nuclear power of Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace?
Because it must be said
What even tomorrow may be too late to say;
Also because we–as Germans burdened enough–
Could be the suppliers to a crime
That is foreseeable, wherefore our complicity
Could not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.
And granted: I am silent no longer
Because I am tired of the hypocrisy
Of the West; in addition to which it is to be hoped
That this will free many from silence,
That they may prompt the perpetrator of the recognized danger
To renounce violence and
That an unhindered and permanent control
Of the Israeli nuclear potential
And the Iranian nuclear sites
Be authorized through an international agency
By the governments of both countries.
Only this way are all, the Israelis and Palestinians,
Even more, all people, that in this
Region occupied by mania
Live cheek by jowl among enemies,
And also us, to be helped.
If we did not know who the poet was, the poem would read as a rather impassioned — though not particularly beautiful — appeal for peace in a tense nuke-powered region, for “Israelis and Palestinians” and for “all people in this region occupied by mania”. It would be an anti-war poem triggered by the declaration of Germany that it would supply yet another nuclear-capable submarine to Israel, which has been threatening to attack Iran. Because it is widely known, though not officially confirmed, that Israel has a nuke, a nuclear war is not impossible.
The poem would seem to be a desperate, if somewhat naïve, plea for transparency in weapons inspection, for peace, and a warning to Germany that it could be complicit in another crime against humanity. Coming from an ordinary poet, this would be a friendly, anti-war poem worrying about the aggressive posturing of the current government of “the state of Israel, to which I am bound”.
But Gunter Grass is not just an ordinary poet. The poem got him instantly branded as an “anti-Semite”, as he had predicted, and an immoral impostor who had revealed his true Nazi colours. Of course Grass was banned from Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out against his “shameful” but “not surprising” attack on Jews, the Israeli embassy in Berlin said Grass was just following the anti-Semitic tradition of blood libel. In short, Israel was hopping mad.
Which is understandable. What is surprising is the response of the “liberal” West. Hate-mongers are drumming up disgust for the author across Europe and America, but it seems to be worst in his own land, Germany, which has revered Grass for ages. The octogenarian Nobel laureate and Germany’s best known contemporary author is suddenly being attacked fiercely by his own people. Even the Social Democrats, who have gained enormously from Grass’s support for more than half a century, announced that the writer was no longer welcome in their midst.
Because pampering Israel, the land of the Jews, seems to be the way to atone for the sins of the Holocaust. The horrific injustice done to Jews by the Nazis, which can never be condoned, has led to a dangerous politics of victim-hood. The Jew is the prototypical victim, so the blessed land of the Jews, Israel, is above criticism. And because Germany is still reeling from the guilt of the Holocaust, it cannot get itself to think clearly about anything relating to Israel.
To make matters worse, Grass had been conscripted into Hitler’s Waffen SS when he was 17, just before the war ended. He has been living with the guilt for almost 70 years. It took him 60 years to even reveal this, and he was pilloried for it even then. Why hadn’t he said so earlier, screamed his critics, he should immediately return his Nobel Prize. Well, it takes time to reveal one’s shameful secrets. Even if one was just a kid who was drafted and had no choice. Besides, as the current mudslinging proves once more, if Grass had indeed revealed this earlier, he would never have been allowed to become the literary stalwart that he is, let alone get the Nobel. Being a coward is not a crime. Nor is being smart. But making false accusations of Nazism against one who has been the biggest critic of Nazis for decades is criminal.
Maybe we need to pull away the wool of political correctness and take a good look at reality. Criticising the policies of Israel is not about hating Jews, it is not anti-Semitism. Fobbing off legitimate criticism of Israel by labelling it anti-Semitic is a shrewd ploy to censor disapproval. Anyone who has read Grass knows he is not anti-Semitic. One only hopes that the poem will actually end the silence and start the debate that Grass wishes for. – Deccan Chronicle, 14 April 2012
» Antara Dev Sen is Editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Filed under: anti-semitism, arms procurement, geopolitics, hegemony, india, iran, israel, legitimizing power, militaristic, nationalism, neo-colonialism, nuclear power, nuclear war, politics, psychological warfare, racism, us politics, zionism | Tagged: anti-semitism, benjamin netanyahu, christianity, gentiles, geopolitics, germany, gunter grass, human rights, iran, iranian bomb, israel, jews, nazi, nuclear arms, nuclear submarine, politics, west asia | 9 Comments »