Germany's most celebrated writer's lyrical warning of a looming Israeli aggression against Iran triggers international row
Luke Harding and Harriet Sherwood
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 5 April 2012 23.16 BST
Günter Grasss poem What Must Be Said was first published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
During his long literary career, Günter Grass has been many things. Author, playwright, sculptor and, unquestionably, Germany's most famous living writer. There is the 1999 Nobel prize and Grass's broader postwar role as the country's moral conscience albeit a claim badly undermined in 2006 when it emerged that the teenage Grass had served in the Waffen SS. But at the ripe old age of 84, Grass has triggered a furious row with a poem criticising Israel.
Entitled What Must Be Said and published on Wednesday in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the lyric warns of a looming Israeli aggression against Iran. It argues that Germany should no longer deliver nuclear submarines to Israel that might carry "all-destroying warheads".
Grass also takes aim at Germany's reluctance to offend Israel reproaching himself for "my silence" on the subject, and acknowledging that he will inevitably face accusations of antisemitism.
He muses: "Why do I only speak out now/Aged and with my last drop of ink:/Israel's nuclear power is endangering/Our already fragile world peace?" He supplies his own apocalyptic answer: it must be said because "tomorrow might be too late".
Grass also calls for "unhindered and permanent monitoring of Israel's nuclear facility and Iran's nuclear facility through an international entity". Ultimately, he suggests, this would help everybody in this "delusional" region, including the Germans or "us", as he puts it.
Hardly surprising, then, that Grass's controversial late lyric has provoked indignation. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, led the attack on Thursday, asserting: "Günter Grass's shameful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran ... says little about Israel and much about Mr Grass." Netanyahu described Iran as "a regime that denied the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel". He added: "It is Iran, not Israel, that is a threat to the peace and security of the world."
Netanyahu's attack then became more personal: "For six decades, Mr Grass hid the fact that he had been a member of the Waffen SS.
"So for him to cast the one and only Jewish state as the greatest threat to world peace and to oppose giving Israel the means to defend itself is perhaps not surprising."
The Israeli embassy in Berlin took the format of Grass's poem and flung it back at him: "What must be said is that it is a European tradition to accuse the Jews before the Passover festival of ritual murder." It concluded that Grass's ill-judged broadside sprung from Germany's own guilty conscience "part of the German people's efforts to come to terms with the past".
German politicians from both left and right have traditionally been supportive of Israel, for obvious historical reasons. Several have criticised Grass, describing his work as "abominable", "irritating" and "over the top". The bestselling Bild, a paper better known for its topless models, complained of "confused poesie". And writing in Die Welt, the Jewish writer Henryk Border dubbed Grass "the prototype of the educated antisemite". He added, for good measure, that Grass was "completely nuts".
All this forced Grass to offer his own pained reply. In an interview with North German Radio, the author complained on Thursday that the tone of the criticism "didn't just concentrate on the contents of the poem" but amounted to a scurrilous campaign to say that his reputation "had been damaged for all time". He added: "The old cliches are used. And to a certain extent they are damaging."
Some commentators, however, offered a more convincing critique: that Grass wasn't antisemitic, but simply didn't know what he was talking about. True, the Nobel prizewinner describes Iran's leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a "bigmouth", or "Maulheld". But otherwise, critics say, he offers a less than convincing analysis of the situation in the Middle East failing to acknowledge, for example, Iran's regular threats to wipe Israel out. Instead Grass raises the unlikely spectre of Israel "annihilating" the Iranian people using a German verb, auslöschen, which comes dangerously close to evoking the Holocaust.
"The poem is more interesting to Grassologists than to stragetic analysts," the Israeli historian Tom Segev, who has met and interviewed Grass, told the Guardian. Segev called the lyric "rather pathetic".
He said it was "idiotic" to describe the writer as an antisemite, but said Grass would be better served expending his last ink on a different creative project. "He's a great writer. He's 84. I hope he uses his last drops to write a good book." He added that the writer appeared to have "some inner psychological need to be accused wrongly", adding: "He's almost wishing people to say he's an antisemite."
The most interesting commentary, arguably, came from the Süddeutsche Zeiting, which published the poem German title Was gesagt werden muss in a supplement. Grass had been writing poems since 1955 but his late ones weren't really poems at all, Thomas Steinfeld observed, and instead resembled pleas, complaints, or angry letters to the editor. Of one lugubrious chunk he writes witheringly: "The only lyrical things here are the arbitary line breaks." Undoubtedly, the poem's portentous tone doesn't help the reader; an opinion page piece might have served Grass better.
Interestingly, Steinfeld suggests that the award of the Nobel prize for literature in 1999 may have contributed to Grass's latest political intervention. The prize transformed Grass from a national figure "Germany's preceptor" to an unashamedly global one "a custodian of world politics". He argues that Grass is the only winner who feels the urge to comment on global affairs. Gabriel García Márquez has not become a literary-political representative of South America, he notes, nor has JM Coetzee become the voice of South Africa, or Derek Walcott that of the Caribbean. Nor has Grass, it might be added, written a poem on Greece, a crisis nearer to Germany's doorstep and wallet.
Grass last attracted this much attention back in 2006, when he revealed in his autobiography, Peeling the Onion, that he had briefly served as a 17-year-old in the Waffen SS at the end of the second world war. The admission in itself wasn't remarkable: many other teenagers of his generation were forced to join the SS as the war entered its chaotic final phase. What irritated was the fact that Grass had taken so long to admit this an inexplicable delay for someone who blamed others for their Nazi pasts and was seen to personify national atonement and self-criticism.
For some, this detail means that Grass forfeited the right to comment on the Jewish state. Ephraim Zuroff, director of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wisenthal Centre, described him as "totally compromised" and added: "The tin drum he is banging is not the one of moral conscience but of deep-seated prejudice against the Jewish people." This is one view.
In fact Grass's critical opinions on Israel have surfaced before. In an interview with Spiegel Online in 2001, he described the "appropriation" of Palestinian territory by Israeli settlers as a "criminal activity", adding: "That not only needs to be stopped it also needs to be reversed."
It is certainly true that Germany's relationship with Israel is a problematic one, with the Holocaust taught in schools and the issue of historical guilt never far beneath the surface.
According to Constanze Stelzenmuller, senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, it is hardly surprising that Germany has a moral obligation to the state of Israel, given the country's past. "The German government has been very clear about this," she said. Berlin has already supplied it with three Dolphin submarines, with two more being built, and a sixth in the pipeline.
But, Stelzenmuller says, Berlin has not been inhibited from criticising Israel, especially on the issue of Israeli settlements, last mentioned by Germany's defence minister two weeks ago. Of Grass, she said: "There's always been an anti-Zionist tendency in the European left, including in the German left. It isn't pretty. Many modern thinkers on the centre-left deplore this."
Amid the criticism, a few voices came forward to defend Grass the author, after all, of The Tin Drum, the great German novel of the second world war and the rise of Nazism. "It's got to be possible to speak openly without being denounced as an enemy of Israel," said Klaus Staeck, the president of the Berlin academy of art. He called the "reflexive condemnation" of Grass as an antisemite inappropriate, and insisted that Grass was merely expressing his concern about developments in the Middle East. "A lot of people share this worry," Staeck added.
Predictably, Iran warmly welcomed Grass's poem. Press TV, Iran's state-owned English-language satellite channel, hailed it as a literary sensation. "Never before in Germany's postwar history has a prominent intellectual attacked Israel in such a courageous way," it said. "Metaphorically speaking, the poet has launched a deadly lyrical strike against Israel."
The Press TV report also observed: "Israel is the only possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East and it has never allowed inspections of its nuclear facilities nor has it joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty based on its policy of nuclear ambiguity."
G. Grass is a disgusting example of what German Children have to read at school. (die Blechtrommel)
He is also a reluctant imposer of what is called "extremism" in Germany. Everyone is free of criticising apartheid rule of Israelis in its "occupied territories", but this pacifist leftist prick of Grass who is an ex-SS Soldier and played the "guardian of German faith" for years seriously had the guts to hide his SS carreer and say sentences like: "Germany should not reeunite because of Auscchwitz". The Moral consciousness of Germany gone mad since decades. Like we own the Israelis nor Iranians anything more than everyone else in his World, that is trying to keep peace, and remember our mistakes.
**** off G. Grass. He doesn't not a **** about politics, or morals, or the real World at all. you should start lighting your grass now
And now look at this picture and think:
This message has been edited by schlawa on Apr 8, 2012 6:09 PM This message has been edited by schlawa on Apr 8, 2012 6:09 PM This message has been edited by schlawa on Apr 8, 2012 6:03 PM
As for his past I don't know if it's relevant. How many Germans have their grandfathers served the army? It was normal back then. Didn't have the infamous status in those time as it has now. I know alot of Dutchies over here who their grandfathers were drafted to serve Germans as well. May it be the factory or policemen. Not doing war crimes is important in this case...
These Germans never quit. This dumb retard schlawa, pretends he is different than Grass, but he is still a wacko talking about "apartheid rule" of Israel. How well is Germany doing with its 4 million Islamic minority? Most of the German Turks in Waff brag that they should become a fifth column and go to Turkey to receive military indoctrination. Don't reply back with what you were instructed from your stupid press about what Turks or other Mahometans are supposed to think and feel about Germany or living there, or how things are "supposed" to be. Israel has a 20% treasonous Mahometan minority population and is surrounded by fanatic Islamic states and societies that want to destroy them. Their traitor Islamic Palestinian minority has Parliamentarians in the Knesset that openly take up the cause of Hamas, Hezbollah and the surrounding states that want to destroy them. Racist Germans would have already liquidated that minority long ago. If anything the Israeli problem is that they are far too tolerant and lenient to those who would destroy them.
Don't you work in some archival building that pertains to the Holocaust or Nazi atrocities? I guess they cannot find non-hypocrite Germans even for such jobs. You are just another German assembly line model of Grass, and you don't even know it. Sad bastard.
You dumb German fack, I live in USA. If anything you are my slave. Please wipe the schnitzel stains off the uniforms of one of the many 53,000+ American troops occupying your country. Because if we don't occupy you nasty bastards, you are liable to make some hasty third world war.
Go to any large Israeli newspaper's portal and read the comments on articles posted there. They, the Israeli and wider Jewish public hate disgusting Europeans like you for good reason. Even though you work in an archive pertaining to your grandparents' crimes, you are still a nasty, self-centered, compassionless bastard, and uber hypocrite. First, you are leecher on the German economy in the same type of cushy government job that your newspapers criticized the Greek public sector for. Second, I even wiped your German butt to point out clearly how you Germans are not in Israel's situation, context or neighborhood and that still they behave far better than your country has to a much more aggressive and larger Mahometan minority in far worse circumstances than you hypocrites have ever dealt with.
Nike,ok, you sound really like chaim ben pesach here. The dude that is illegal in Israel and hates on everybody. He had his German hating section and you sound like him. You take your ''oh Muslims are against Israelis so I am pro Israeli'' act abit too far. Israel is alive today mind you because of Europe and America. Why do you think that retard Pesach ben chaim is banned? He is bad for Zionist image. Israel needs countries like Germany.
Israel is a mini America I guess. As far as human rights go with the prison thing and the knesset it's on OK I guess. It has some favourable points but just like America Israel isn't shy about killing in masses for own personal goal.
If it was up to facking Germans they would send have sent troops on the side of the Arabs. All the European states turn a total blind eye to Mahometan immigrant jihadis, not the fake wannabes like you Serkan, who intimidate, attack and drive out the remaining European Jews in a news exodus to Israel and the USA. Germans still don't have full control of their state, especially in hard aspects of foreign policy, they are incorporated into larger American policies like supporting Israel.
Im going to discuss a variation on an old Greek fable about the industrious ant and the profligate grasshopper. You probably know the traditional story. Over the past two years in particular, the Greeks have earned an international reputation, as Europes grasshoppers. And the Germans have become the ants. ...
Now, the problem with attractive stories like this is that they can distort as much as they can help. This afternoon Id like to argue that Aesops fable, as attractive as it might be contributes more to Europes problem, than it does the solution. And my reason for this is simple. The ants and grasshoppers are found in all areas, in Greece and Italy there are hard-working industrious people, just as there are lazy, profligate grasshoppers in Germany and in the Netherlands and in Austria. But we have tended to assume that all of the ants are in the north and all the grasshoppers are in the south. And, therefore, we are introducing toxic remedies to rectify the problem.
Obviously, schlawa already admitted he is a grasshopper working at a government archive, that is, getting paid alot, in cushy circumstances, for economically unproductive work. He also tries to act mild, but a mild German, does not exist, they are almost all rude, racistic bastards.
About economical fantasies about US overseas bases, here the research by Steve Schofield on the economic claims about a NSA base in the UK:
Claims made by the US authorities that Menwith Hill provides significant economic benefits to the local community, peaking at over £163 million annual expenditure in 2010, are grossly exaggerated.
Aggregate figures that rely on US salaries for 50% of this total, take no account of the proportion of those salaries repatriated to the United States, nor that spent on subsidised US goods and services purchased inside the base, within the dollar economy. Also, a large proportion of contracting work on the new operations building, paid for by the US authorities and classed as local expenditure, has been allocated to companies outside the local area.
Over the last five years, the cost to the MoD has been over £7 million to support the construction programme for the new
operations building and the upgrading of other facilities used exclusively by US personnel. Under this Cost Sharing Arrangement, Menwith Hill is run as a tax-free zone.
The UK government forgoes normal tax revenues, including customs and excise duties and VAT on supplies, as well as business- rate council tax for the range of public services provided to the base.
It goes on. Needless to say racist German grasshopper you are too dumb to be anything but an idiot who gets info wherever it comes mostly easily to you with the least effort, from media, and then you act clever and superior based on your Aryan blood, despite that you pretend to be a leftist and moderate(impossible for someone of German temperament).
Expats on how rude, racist, staring, arrogant and uncouth Germans are
(I had to link protect that with lix.in because it had lots of weird characters that Network54's software was stripping out, just click continue.)
Anyone who takes the time to read it, will understand as explained by numerous expats living amongst them, why the Waff Germans are so nasty.
And don't believe Arab_Yilmaz pretending to defend Germany, because to other WAFF Turks he attacks gavur/infidel Germany and mythologizes holy Mahometan Turkiye.
Idiot, show me where I attacked "infidel" Germany.
Why would I attack the place I live in?
Must be hard to swallow for you, that your God punished Germany for what it did with your people into being world's 2nd largest export-nation and an industrial/economic power...
If you don't like Germany, don't take their alms and aid.
Most Germans don't like their lives, that is why they are so rude, unfriendly, short of temper, so "God" did punish them. I never see a Germany factory worker brag about their industrial prowess. First, because their stratified school system never teaches them English and second, they are much more likely to have the sense to not brag about the job giving them an ulcer and constant stress. Only the German grasshoppers you see on Waff are that dumb and arrogant enough to brag about the jobs they avoid working in at all cost, then argue what these Germans they look down upon "produce" or "don't produce".
And you cannot bs me, Turkish ultra-nationalist in Germany. I know how you think and express yourself in G&T forum toward the infidels including Germans. The only time you are pro Germany is in the matters where it is against Greece. You have been in this forum for a long time and only pop your reptile Mahometan lizard head out to post "buyuk Turkiye" news and if not to make fun of "bankrupt Greece". That is not how Germans think, they will never accept sick hypocrite Turkish ultra-nationalists like you among them.