Gunter Grass, Iran and Anti-Semitism (COMMENTARY MAGAZINE) Jonathan S. Tobin 04/05/12)
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One aspect of the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe that is
particularly perplexing for onlookers is the way hatred of Israel and
Jews has been taken up by leading intellectuals. Perhaps the most
egregious example of this trend is that of Gunter Grass. Grass, a
Nobel laureate for literature and perhaps one of the leading figures
of German letters of the postwar era, is a veteran leftist known for
his hatred for the United States as well as his background as a
member of the Hitler Youth and the Waffen SS under the Nazi regime.
But yesterday, the author of The Tin Drum was back in the news for
writing a poem defending Iran and attacking Israel.
Grass not only denied that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon but
also denounced German support for Israel and called on the German
government to halt the sale of submarines that are key to the Jewish
state’s deterrence against aggression. Though Iran’s leaders have
repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel as well as denying
the Holocaust, Grass promotes a new blood libel when he claims it is
Israel that is plotting to wipe out Iran and is the primary threat to
It is telling that even as hard-core an Israeli leftist as author Tom
Segev was willing to denounce Grass’ latest effort in Haaretz. Though
he put the poem down as being “more pathetic than anti-Semitic,”
Segev made it clear the German’s attempt to paint Israel as the
villain and Iran as the victim was absurd:
Grass’ comparison of Israel and Iran is unfair, because unlike Iran,
Israel has never threatened to wipe another country off the map. And
contrary to Grass’ sanctimonious verses, under no circumstances would
a military action against Iran lead to the extermination of the
Iranian people, because as far as we know, it would exclusively
target the country’s nuclear facilities.
Few could dispute that the world will be a better place without an
Iranian nuclear weapon. And not only in Israel – also the northern
German town of Lubeck, the capital of marzipan, where Grass writes,
paints and sculpts, will be a better place if Iran doesn’t get the
bomb. Grass basks in hypocritical moralism and agonizes over not
having condemned Israel’s nuclear capacity earlier. … One gets the
impression Grass’ act of “breaking the silence” is more a self-
contained personal experience than anything else. Neither can one
escape the notion that he seeks to recreate the shock waves of his
confession six years ago about his service in the Waffen SS during
World War II.
Segev was right to note that Israelis are having a debate about
whether an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is necessary or wise.
But he is wrong to acquit Grass of anti-Semitism. His work is
indicative of a desire to demonize the one Jewish state in the world
while whitewashing the record of an Islamist regime awash in Jew-
hatred and dedicated to annihilating Israel. Like many other European
intellectuals, Grass adopts a pose in which he claims to be innocent
of anti-Semitism. His vitriol aimed at Israel and his assistance to
the campaign to strip it of its right to self-defense betrays his
motives and ideology.
The spectacle of a former Nazi penning a rationalization of a regime
that promotes a similar style of hate for Jews may well be pathetic.
But that such a person is treated as the conscience of his nation
speaks volumes about the debased nature of intellectual discourse in
contemporary Europe. Thanks to figures like Grass and other leading
lights of the arts such as Britain’s Emma Thompson, anti-Semitism is
having its best days in Europe since the author was saluting Hitler
in the SS.
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