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.