Grass’s poem hovers over German president´s visit (JERUSALEM POST) By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT 05/29/12)
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BERLIN – Günter Grass’s poem attacking the Jewish state has locked
German- Israeli relations into a war of words.
Germany’s freshly minted President Joachim Gauck, who is currently
visiting Israel, decided to remain on the sidelines of the
international debate in April about contemporary anti-Semitism in the
Federal Republic. Will Gauck use his first Israel visit as Germany’s
symbolic moral voice to tackle the anti-Israel Grass lyric? Israeli
Ambassador to Germany Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, who, like Gauck, took
his position in March, seems to expect Gauck to use his bully pulpit
for a pedagogical moment on modern anti-Semitism. Hadas-Handelsman
told the French wire service AFP on Monday ahead of Gauck’s visit
that rising anti-Semitism in Germany is “a big danger.”
According to AFP, Hadas-Handelsman noted that in connection with the
poem from Grass, a Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature, “anti-Semitism
is more present in Europe. We see it, unfortunately, almost every
day. Also in Germany the phenomenon has now recently emerged and
Grass wrote in his poem, “What Must Be Said,” earlier this year, that
Israel seeks to obliterate Iran’s population, and the Jewish state is
the main impediment to Mideast security.
Israel’s top diplomat in Germany stressed that the topic of Grass
will be discussed during Gauck’s visit. Gauck has traveled to Israel
several times before becoming president.
In an email to The Jerusalem Post on Monday, German-Israeli Melody
Sucharewicz, who serves as a voice for Israeli public diplomacy in
the Federal Republic, wrote that Gauck’s visit has enormous potential
for German-Israeli relations. She explained the significance of the
meeting taking place shortly after the Grass debate, which was the
launching pad for a new wave of public criticism of Israel in Germany.
“The distortion of historical and geopolitical facts inevitably
inciting against Israel received a legitimacy seal with the Nobel
Prize winner’s poem,” she said.
Sucharewicz added that “the Grass debate is over, the problem
underlying it is not. The new quality of Israel criticism in Germany
comes along with a rising trend of anti-Semitism and increasing
evidence for the connection of both phenomena.”
“Gauck, as a real freedom fighter, would do good both for Germany’s
role in the peace process, but especially for the future of German-
Israeli relations, if he used this visit to increase awareness in
Germany about the trends underlying the public resentment against
Israel and to advance creative policy to oppose these trends before
it becomes irreversible,” she said.
Speaking from Jerusalem on Monday, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the head of the
Israeli office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Postduring a
telephone interview that Gauck “ has to make the decision to respond
to Grass. [That would be] one way to assure Israelis that official
Germany is no longer party to Grass.”
Zuroff asked that if Gauck were to distance his government from Grass
in Israel, “why did he not use the opportunity in Germany where his
stature carries moral weight?” Grass’s tirades against Israel
were “quite shocking to Israelis and Jews the world over, and remain
on the minds of Israelis,” said Zuroff, the world’s most famous
hunter of Nazi war criminals.
Grass served as a member of the Nazi Waffen-SS during World War II.
Zuroff noted that it was “good news” that high officials in Germany
Yet, “if Gauck would add his voice to the criticism, it would be
meaningful and important” in Israel.
Zuroff is one of Gauck’s sharpest critics in Israel, largely because
the German president signed the controversial Prague Declaration.
Zuroff said Gauck was one of only three leading Western European
figures who signed the declaration.
According to Zuroff, the document is a “distortion of the Holocaust
because it rewrites the narrative and turns the Shoah into a tragedy
among many tragedies. This is the heart of the Prague Declaration.”
Gauck issued his support for the declaration before assuming the
tenure of German’s president.
Zuroff sees the Prague Declaration as the “most serious threat to
Holocaust memory in decades.”
Critics argue that the Prague Declaration mistakenly conflates the
crimes of Soviet communism with the Holocaust. (© 1995-2011, The
Jerusalem Post 05/29/12)
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