Gunter Grass Banned From Israel Over Poem

A poem by Nobel Prize-winning German writer Günter Grass has led to the author being barred from entering Israel under a law that prevents former Nazis from entering the country. The poem, “Was gesagt werden muss” (“What must be said”), is about contemporary politics and nuclear weapons: Grass criticizes Israel for threatening to attack Iran for that country’s nuclear program, demands that Israel’s nuclear weapons by monitored and says that Germany, by selling submarines to Israel, is complicit.

While (as the New York Times observes these views are “relatively common among European intellectuals,” a huge controversy has swirled around Grass’s drawing direct parallels between “Israel’s nuclear potential / and the Iranian nuclear facilities” (“des israelischen atomaren Potentials / und der iranischen Atomanlagen”). Grass also describes Israel as “nuclear-armed” (“Atommacht”) and “endangering / the already fragile world peace” (“fährdet / den ohnehin brüchigen Weltfrieden”). His criticism extends to the West for its hypocrisy (“Heuchelei”). With its title asserting that its poet has something that “must be said,” the poem’s tone is defiant but also anguished as Grass asks himself “why have I been silent so long?” (“Warum aber schwieg ich bislang?”), with a reference to his own background (“meine Herkunft”) which has “never been afflicted by a blotted-out stigma” (“die von nie zu tilgendem Makel behaftet ist”).

Outrage Over Grass’s Poem

Grass’s background is another reason for the controversy over “Was gesagt werden muss.” Israel’s interior minister, Eli Yishai, says that the poet’s works “fan[s] the flames of hatred against Israel and the Israeli people, thus promoting the idea he was part of when he donned an SS uniform,” a reference to Grass’s admission that he was conscripted into the Nazi Waffen SS as a 17-year-old. Saying that Grass’s poems are “distorted,” Yishai added that he suggest that “he try them in Iran where he will find a sympathetic audience.”

Grass has also come under heavy critique in Germany. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that his comparisons of Israel and Iran are “absurd” and Holocaust survivor and literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, that the poem is simply “disgusting.”

The 84-year-old Grass has told the Süddeutsche Zeitung , which published the poem on April 4, that he intended to criticize the policies of the present Israeli government under Benyamin Netanyahu. “I have often supported Israel, I have often been in the country and want the country to exist and at last find peace with its neighbors,” Grass told the newspaper. Israeli politicians and others contend that Grass’s background in the Nazi army has disqualified him from criticizing Israel’s policies; some have charged him with anti-Semitism, a response that Grass had predicted in his poem.

Did Grass Say “What Had To Be Said”?

Larry Derfner at the website +972 says that Grass’s time in the Waffen SS “doesn’t matter” and that Grass is an “easy target for Israel’s enforcers.” The Guardian quotes Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, who says that Grass and others who criticize Israel’s policies are “not anti-Semites” but “expressing the opinions of many people” and should not be accused. Rather, “we should consider what we did that led them to express it.”

As Eli Uncyk writes in a letter to the New York Times, “the best way to judge [Grass's poem's] merits as poetry and as controversial thought-provoking literature” is to read it, whatever one’s views about the writer’s opinions. Uncyk says:

A reader need not agree with the views Mr. Grass expresses on the nuclear weapon issue. But in Israel, more than in any Middle East country, the right and even the obligation to read and debate his poem should be recognized as a democratic right.

The uproar over Grass’s poem suggests that anyone who thinks that poetry doesn’t matter in this day and age should think again.

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Photo by Blauen Sofa via Wikimedia Commons


John Duqesa
Past Member 4 years ago

David E

“the cynicism that in our day produces war games simulating nuclear combat with projections of here fifty, there eighty million dead.” Agreement to deployments on German soil, he said, would commit West Germany to “nothing less than calculated genocide.”

And he was right.

David E.
David E.4 years ago

In 1983, as in 2012, Grass’s offensive analysis disregarded the chains of causation that led to a political crisis. Then, he ignored the Soviet pressure created by its nuclear build-up just as he now ignores the significance of the Iranian threats to Israel. Then, he claimed that it was the United States and the Western alliance that was the cause of a possible genocide; now, he blames Israel for threatening world peace and planning a genocide of the Iranian people. Now, as 30 years ago, he suggests that democracies seeking to defend themselves against dictatorships are the cause of crises which could be overcome if only they would turn away from dangerous policies. In both cases, he did not say “what must be said” about the real threats to peace and freedom.

David E.
David E.4 years ago

It is important to recall that Grass’s confusions about international politics are a matter of long standing. During the heated debate in the 1980s about whether or not to proceed with NATO’s deployments of intermediate-range nuclear weapons in West Germany, Grass called for “resistance” against the United States. At a national conference of the Social Democratic Party in 1983, he said that “there is no great difference between the cynical disregard of basic ethical values” that took place at the Wannsee Conference (which laid the basis for implementing the “final solution”) and “the cynicism that in our day produces war games simulating nuclear combat with projections of here fifty, there eighty million dead.” Agreement to deployments on German soil, he said, would commit West Germany to “nothing less than calculated genocide.”

David E.
David E.4 years ago

Fortunately, Grass has a significant number of critics in Germany. Henryk Broder, author of a recent and incisive polemic entitled “Forget Auschwitz: On the Final Solution of the Israel Question,” correctly describes Grass as the “prototype of an educated anti-Semite,” one who presents himself as a friend of the Jews yet seeks to undermine Israel’s capacity to defend itself. Richard Herzinger, in a withering essay in Die Welt, dissects the strategic ignorance in Grass’s poem and compares Grass’s argument to Nazism’s presentation of the Jews as advocates of mass murder. Josef Joffe in Die Zeit sets the record straight regarding the German delivery of a submarine to Israel and sees the Grass publication as evidence that the anti-Semitic argument that “the Jew is guilty” is again part of public discussion in Germany. Grass critics also include Frank Schirmmacher, the editor of the cultural pages of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; Clemens Wergin, in Die Welt; and Michael Naumann and Malte Lehming, both in the Berlin-based Tagesspiegel.

Robert O.
Robert O.4 years ago

It seems reasonable to point out a double standard like that. That always gets the perps PO'd.

John Duqesa
Past Member 4 years ago

cont'd What the Zionists destroyed.

History of the Jews in Morocco

In 1940, the Nazi-controlled Vichy government issued antisemitic decrees excluding Jews from public functions and imposing the wear of yellow Magen David star. Sultan Mohamed V refused to apply these laws and, as sign of defiance, insisted on inviting all the rabbis of Morocco to the 1941 throne celebrations[2].

John Duqesa
Past Member 4 years ago

This is what the Zionists have desytroyed:--

History of the Jews in Algeria

Vichy rule (that ruled in Algeria from 1940) cancelled the citizenship of the Jews and instituted the same restrictions that applied to the Jews of France (and forbid them to work for the government, to be bankers, teachers and students, and also the number of Jews permitted to work in free professions was limited). In 1941 the property of the Jews was confiscated. However, in a sign of the solidarity in suffering,

/////////not a single Muslim Algerian took advantage of Jewish confiscated property; on a Friday in 1941, religious leaders throughout Algiers delivered sermons warning Muslims against participation in schemes to strip Jews of their property////////// [1].

The suffering of the Jews of Algeria was difficult because of their previous high position in society. In 1941 some Jews joined the anti-Nazi underground. Many Jews were caught and were sent to labor camps or were executed. The Judenräte required assistance in preparation of materiel. In November 1942 Algeria was occupied by the United States and Great Britain. In 1943 the restraints on the Jews of Algeria were cancelled.

History of the Jews in Morocco

In 1940, the Nazi-controlled Vichy government issued antisemi

Milan L.
Milan L.4 years ago

Not that I really want to find out, but - whatever for would Herr Grass want to visit Israel anyway?

Phyllis B.
Jennifer Ward4 years ago

Are you pro Palestinians nuts? 60 suicide bombings in a year- more than one a week- convinced Israel to build the wall- now they are called an 'apartheid' state. 250 rockets a month raining into Israel- and it is the aggresser? The Fogel family, including 3 month old baby, had their throats slit as they lay in their beds, and the Palestinians (including the murderer's mother) think the perps are 'heroes'. And you useful idiots are excusing them on the grounds of 'stolen' real estate?

Fact- Israel was declared a legitimate state in 1948. Israelis have the right to defend their land. Syria and Jordan took 70% of the area known as Palestine and confiscated Jewish lands and expelled the Jews that had lived there for centuries. If gaining real estate is the prime aim, let the Palestinians have those lands.

Oh, and let's look at the Arab governments that currently exist- basket cases and oppressive almost every one- and it's always some one else's fault.

On the other hand, Israel is productive, educated and takes responsibility for earning its own living.

Arab countries are destructive, illiterate in the main, invent or produce very little apart from oil (which the West provides the equipment to extract). Their laws and customs embrace oppression of non Muslims, women, killing of children by their parents, slavery, feudalism. honor killings, female genital mutilation, etc;

Palestinians are being used as pawns by the other Arab states and they are too dumb to noti

Kimberlee W.
Kimberlee W.4 years ago

The nine people before me are so eloquent in saying what I was thinking, there's almost nothing more to add.