Don’t step on Grass

I think it was a stupid decision to ban Gunter Grass from entering Israel, but I’m not surprised at Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s decision to do it. Our interior minister is a man who sees things in black and white only.

This week, Yishai issued an order making the German writer Persona non Grata in Israel, effectively barring him from the country, for Grass’ poem in a German newspaper, in which the Nobel laureate said Israel’s nuclear program was a danger to world peace.

Grass wrote that he feared a nuclear-armed Israel “could wipe out the Iranian people” with a “first strike.” It’s ridiculous. It’s despicable, uninformed, reflexively anti-Israeli, and most likely anti-Semitic. He doesn’t even pretend to see things from our perspective, to walk in our shoes. It’s a load of bull.

But still, banning him from entering the country reminds me very much of Iran’s death fatwa on Salman Rushdie for his Satanic Verses.

Rushdie, who knows a thing or two about being banned for his writings, tweeted this on Monday:

OK to dislike, even be disgusted by #GünterGrass poem, but to ban him is infantile pique. The answer to words must always be other words.
If you were a teenager and a nazi came to conscript you, and refusal meant death, would you choose to die?
To be a conscript in the Waffen-SS is not to be a Nazi. To be the author of The Tin Drum is to merit great honor.
Let’s not forget that #GünterGrass is the author of the greatest literary responses to Nazism, The Tin Drum, Cat and Mouse, Dog Years.

When it comes to Gunter Grass and what he wrote, we can confront him, debate him, rebuke him, convince him, argue with him, berate him. We can DEAL with him. We don’t need to BAN him. We’re not Iran. Israel should not be afraid of Grass, it should be afraid of his ideas. And it should work to counter his ideas by challenging them in the public domain. That means opinion pieces, interviews, etc. Banning him from entering the country just makes us look provincial, and weak.

By the way, the same principle holds for others who are critical of Israel through their writing, like Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, both of whom have been barred from entry into Israel.

3 thoughts on “Don’t step on Grass

  1. The problem here, as with many of the reactions by Israel’s defenders to critics of Israeli policy is that the reaction amounts to little other than a furious ad hominem assault – as if a demand to the critics to be silent serves as an answer to their criticisms.

    One is also a little bit worried about such a furious reaction to a poem.

    Poetry, like all art, to be considered a creation of artistic quality, should contain both overstatement and ambiguity. If these features are missing, the observer or the reader will not engage and will become bored. Poor art is boring. It is possible that some readers may find the Grass poem to be boring. It may contain overstatement, but not ambiguity.

  2. Gunter Grass’ poem, ‘What must be said’, is an absurd and morally indefensible attack on Israel. The poem states that the Jewish state endangers world peace because of its threat to attack Iran, which has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel. Instead of engaging with the complex debate over whether Israel has the right to defend itself against an aggressor, Grass singles out the Jewish state for criticism and makes no reference to Iran’s genocidal intentions. The poem also states that Israel intends to annihilate the Iranian people – a gross error, as any attack on Iran would be on nuclear facilities and not the entire populace. What Grass fails to mention is that it would be the Israeli Jews and Arabs who would be annihilated if Iran dropped a nuclear bomb. The fact that Gunter, a former member of the Wassen-SS, published the poem just before Passover recalls the European tradition of accusing Jews of ritual murder just before the annual Jewish festival. As such, Grass should be stripped of his Nobel Prize in Literature, which was awarded to him in 1999. Sign the petition at:

  3. It is interesting to note, how many on the Left (not only you, compare for example Yoav Karny’s blog) had little or no reaction to Grass’s “poem”, but have a lot of false indignation because of Yishai’s decision. No matter how silly it is, it is a country’s sovereign decision and prerogative to decide whether to grant entry, and it’s difficult to argue Grass is seriously damaged by this. On the other hand, the poem is more than offensive – it’s a repetition of classic and dangerous stereotypes whose result we know well.

    If the poem is negligible (I don’t think so), than so is Yishai’s decision. If not, then it’s difficult to reconcile the silence about it with the indignation about the latter. It’s almost like the Israeli Left cares more about its international colleagues and reputation than the local population it is supposed to represent.

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