German author Günter Grass has attracted both local and international criticism over an anti-Israeli poem he wrote on Wednesday. The poem entitled “What must be said” was published in several newspapers, including the German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung and described Israel as “a threat to world peace.”
Grass wrote that an Israeli attack against Iran could “wipe out the Iranian people” and specifically criticized the sale of German submarines to Israel, which he claims are carrying “annihilating warheads”. He wants both countries to submit their nuclear programs to international inspections and accused the West of “hypocrisy”.
Grass won the 1999 Nobel Prize in literature and admitted in 2006 that he was a former Waffen-SS member. The Waffen-SS was the combat arm of the Nazi “SS” paramilitary organization that “staffed the concentration camps and crushed the Warsaw Uprising.” Grass denied committing atrocities and claimed he was “a youth conscript forced to work anti-aircraft batteries.”
Emmanuel Nahshon, deputy chief of mission for the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, issued the following statement: “What must be said is that it is a European tradition to accuse the Jews before the Passover festival of ritual murder. Earlier, it was Christian children whose blood the Jews allegedly used to make their unleavened bread, but today it is the Iranian people that the Jewish state allegedly wants to annihilate. What also must be said is that Israel is the only state in the world whose right to exist is openly doubted. That was true on the day of its founding and it remains true today. We want to live in peace with our neighbors in the region. And we are not prepared to assume the role that Günter Grass is trying to assign to us as part of the German people’s efforts to come to terms with the past.”
Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of Jerusalem’s Simon Wiesenthal Center and known as the world’s leading Nazi-hunter, responded harshly saying, “Günter Grass’s attack on Israel and outrageous accusations against the Jewish state are a reflection of the transformation of German anti-Semitism in recent years. While attacks on individual Jews as Jews are politically incorrect and generally unacceptable in the Federal Republic, Israel has become the whipping boy for anti-Semitic Germans sick of the Holocaust and seeking to rid themselves of any responsibility for its aftermath.”
Zuroff added that, “In this respect, the outrageous comments by Grass are not unusually surprising, since his moral integrity was totally compromised by his admission of service in the Waffen-SS, and his status as a moral conscience for the country in terms of facing its World War II guilt was obviously unjustified. Grass is speaking for a spectrum of ostensibly respectable Germans who harbor anti-Semitic views which which cannot be uttered at home in Germany, but can be directed at Israel, which has become a symbol for the hated Jews. The tin drum he is banging is not the one of moral conscience but of deep-seated prejudice against the Jewish people, the primary victims of German anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia.”
The Central Council of Jews in Germany called the poem an “aggressive pamphlet of agitation”.
Broder further mentioned that “Grass has always had a problem with Jews but he has never articulated it as clearly as with this ‘poem’… haunted by feelings of guilt and shame and also driven by the desire to settle history, he is now attempting to disarm the ‘cause of the recognizable threat.”
The chairman of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Ruprecht Polenz, said “Grass is a great writer, but his political judgment is wholly wrong” and added that the poem was unlikely to damage German-Israel relations.
Philipp Mißfelder, the foreign policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party in the Bundestag, said that “the poem is tasteless and un-historic and shows a lack of knowledge about the situation in the Middle East.”
However, German Left party deputy Wolfgang Gehrcke praised Grass as having “the ‘courage’ to say what is silenced.”
Grass previously made comments critical of Israel in 2001, and in 2011, Grass claimed that six million German prisoners of war (POWs) were killed by the Russians during World War II. Official estimates of German POWs that died in Russian captivity during World War 2 range from a minimum of 363,000 to a maximum of one million.