The 84-year-old Günter Grass, a 1999 Nobel Prize laureate in Literature and lifelong Social Democratic party activist, wrote that “the atomic power Israel is endangering the already fragile world peace.” His poem, entitled “What must be said,” ran in the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, and Italy’s La Repubblica.
Grass, who revealed in 2006 that he had been a member of the Nazi Waffen SS, a group committed to eliminating European Jewry during World War II, contends that there is no proof that Iran is building a nuclear device, and calls on German chancellor Angela Merkel not to deliver any further Super Dolphin submarines to Israel.
Best known for his novel "The Tin Drum," about the lead-up to Nazism in Germany and Poland and the time during the war years, Grass has long regarded Germans as victims of the allies in World War II, and he now joins the ranks of Nobelists for whom Israel is a whipping boy.
During the second Intifada, another Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Portuguese writer José Saramago, declared that Ramallah is another Auschwitz.
In a time when Israel faces a menacing Iranian regime, and Jews in France are being killed merely for being Jews, Grass and Social Democratic party head Sigmar Gabriel are fanning the flames of modern Jew-hatred. Last month, Gabriel referred to Israel as an “Apartheid regime,” drawing substantial shows of solidarity.
Writing in a student newspaper at the Hochschule Mittweida (University of Applied Sciences) in the state of Saxony, Florian Barth defended Gabriel, noting that “criticism of Israel’s Palestinian policies and criticism of the Israeli state have nothing to do with each other.”
It is a bizarre time in Germany. Last month, ZDF television broadcasted without objection an interview in which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust. The interviewer, well-known German journalist Claus Kleber, also failed to ask questions about the repression of Iran’s democracy movement.
The Holocaust is “a lie of Israel” that allows the Jewish state to hurt the Palestinians, Ahmadinejad said in the ZDF interview. Claus Kleber defended his interview style for the taxpayer funded public station that aired the 45-minute interview on the popular news channel.
Dieter Graumann, head of Germany’s 105,000 member Jewish community, told the Bild am Sonntag paper that ZDF provided Ahmadinejad with a platform to spread his “poison.” Yet across much of Europe, and in large parts of German society, people remain in denial about modern-day anti-Semitism.
In the late 1960s, Austrian Jewish writer and Auschwitz survivor Jean Amery neatly captured the post-Holocaust definition of anti-Zionism, when he wrote that “Anti-Zionism contains anti-Semitism like a cloud contains a storm.”
In his poem, Grass conspicuously ignores criticism of Iran’s state-sponsored policy of Holocaust denial, as well as Iranian terrorist attacks against Jewish sites, Iranian dissidents, and Americans. Yet fresh revelations from the al-Qaeda trial in Koblenz, Germany earlier this week confirm that Iran is even helping al-Qaeda.
Grass remains predictably silent on the al-Qaeda inspired Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old French citizen of Algerian origin, who is believed to be responsible for the murder of a rabbi, three Jewish students, and three French soldiers last month. Merah reportedly justified shooting the Jews to “avenge the death of Palestinian children.”
What drives an aging German author to blame Israel for world’s ills? The late German-Jewish philosophers Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer argued that the crimes of the Holocaust created such profound guilt that some Germans blamed the Jews for the Shoah and continue to hold Israel to moral standards people would apply to no other nation.
Grass, like Sigmar Gabriel, embodies this post-Holocaust tradition of anti-Semitism and envisions a world cleansed of the Jewish state. They never consider the possibility that their absurd obsession with Israel’s wrongs has less to do with its policies than their pathological failures to grapple with the legacy of Nazism in Germany.
German historian Ernst Nolte contributed to the unsavory tradition of seeking to purge his country’s guilt and shame because of the crimes of the Holocaust by equating Israel’s policies with those of Nazis. When he spoke at the Italian Parliament in 2004, Nolte declared that “the only difference between Israel and the Third Reich is Auschwitz.”
With his latest work, Grass has become the leading anti-Israel author of the European intelligentsia. It is a disturbing sign of intellectual malaise, anti-democratic thinking and nihilism that he can use major media outlets to stoke hatred of Israel. To many Germans, anti-Semitism is apparently no longer a shock.
Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of the book "A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism"