Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s decision to declare Guenter Grass a persona non grata appeared cynical and populist from the get-go. It was clear that not much time would elapse before the overwhelming support for Israel in the German and global media, and the criticism over Grass’ despicable poem, would turn around as result of our interior minister’s statement.
Indeed, within minutes the dramatic report made headlines on the websites of the world’s leading newspapers. Just as quickly, the surprising pro-Israel atmosphere was replaced by anti-Israel criticism over the decision. And so, the tables have turned.
Grass’ poem stirred huge controversy, especially in his German homeland, with the writer sustaining harsh criticism from international thinkers and authors. Hence, the problem with Minister Yishai’s decision was the timing.
Instead of sitting back and taking pleasure in the media and public offensive over Grass’ very problematic statements on Israel and the “danger it constitutes to world peace,” Yishai managed to draw the fire back to Israel. Now, we are the bad boy, who exactly like the Iranians does not respect freedom of expression.
We could have certainly settled for the harsh reactions issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, instead of acting provocatively and stirring harsh criticism against Israel on the part of public figures, journalists, commentators and politicians in Germany, as happened in the wake of Yishai’s declaration.
Now, Grass is no longer the story; rather, we are. We again managed to outrage public opinion against us by acting without thinking.
Indeed, some would say that we do not need to apologize to anyone, yet the public relations battlefield is no less important than Israel’s honor and our reaction policy. European public opinion has a dramatic effect on media coverage and the conduct of governments, and as it is, our global situation isn’t fabulous, to say the least.
We could have done without this miserable decision, which marked an effort to forcefully shut Grass up. One should not be undermining freedom of speech, and this is especially true in the case in question – after all, it does not appear that Grass had any intention to visit Israel, and now he is merely enjoying more attention.