All the same, this famed German artist only came to me and my colleagues’ attention when his poem, “Was gesagt werden muss” (“What Must be Said”) was published in several European newspapers. This in turn led to a maelstrom of controversy in his native Germany, and in Israel, the subject (or rather, target) of his work.
For those of you who care to read exactly what he said, he’s quoted elsewhere in this paper, and his poem is freely available online, both in translation, and in the original German. For those of you who want the Reader’s Digest version, I’ll provide you with one here. This is admittedly my own interpretation, but one derived from the original text. If you feel that my version truly differs in intent from the original, send your thoughts to email@example.com.
What Must be Said is:
Iran is allegedly trying to make nukes, though we don’t have proof.
Israel has nukes, they’re the real threat, and everyone ignores this.
If anyone speaks out, they’re labeled anti-Semites.
We Germans have enough of a burden on our conscience without aiding and abetting future Israeli crimes by selling them nuclear submarines.
The only way to ensure peace is by treating Israelis and Iranians equally, and inspecting the nuclear facilities of both.
(Because even though Iran’s leaders have openly expressed a wish to annihilate Israel, the Israelis, by seeking to preempt that threat, are really the same. –ed.)
Did we mention that this guy was a soldier in Hitler’s army? I don’t care if it was 80 years ago. I don’t care if it was “only” for a few months. If you were a Nazi stormtrooper, you don’t get to be taken seriously for anything you write or say involving Jews. Ever.
The Israelis banning him from their country was dumb. Even if he deserved it, it can only reflect poorly on Israel. Take for example a recent L.A. Times editorial, explaining how some Israelis “see [the poem] as part of a growing international movement to delegitimize the nation.”
“Hence the resulting personal attacks on Grass by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” the editorial continued, “who suggested that Grass was motivated by anti-Semitism that could be traced back to his time as a World War II soldier in the Waffen SS.”
That’s right. Bibi is the attacker because he dared to dredge up the fact that the Nobel Laureate who condemns the Jewish state by equating them with the regime that seeks their annihilation, happens to have been a Nazi. As if that’s relevant.
It’s a PR disaster no matter how you look at it. But just because our friends in Israel can’t win doesn’t mean they need to go out of their way to make a Nazi look like a victim.