The Israeli Embassy in Berlin on Wednesday slammed celebrated German author Günter Grass for publishing a new poem in which he calls Israel a “danger for world peace” and says it is allegedly planning an attack that could “annihilate” the Iranian people.
Grass, 84, won the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature. Seven years later, he sparked controversy about his integrity when he revealed that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS.
“It needs to be said that blood libels are a European tradition ahead of Passover. It used to be Christian children whose blood the Jews allegedly used for their matzot. Today it’s the Iranian people that the Jewish people allegedly seeks to annihilate,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, an Israeli envoy to Berlin. “We want to live in peace with our neighbors. And we aren’t ready to take on the role in the way the Germans deal with their past that Günter Grass wants to attribute to us.”
‘Grass always had a problem with Jews, but he never articulated this as openly as in this “poem”‘
On Wednesday, Grass published a poem called Was gesagt werden muss, or “What needs to be said,” in which he bashes the “nuclear power Israel” for “endangering world peace.” He indirectly criticizes the German government for selling Israel “another submarine whose speciality is to direct warheads that can destroy everything at a place where the existence of a single nuclear bomb has never been proven.”
In the poem, Grass also expresses regret for having been silent about Germany’s support for Israel for so long because of his guilty conscience due to his past and because he doesn’t want to be branded an anti-Semite. He is “tired of Western hypocrisy,” the poem reads.
He writes that he hopes that more people will, like him, break their silence and demand “unrestricted and permanent control of the Israeli nuclear potential and the Iranian nuclear facilities through an international body.”
The publication of the poem immediately rekindled the controversy about Grass.
“It’s tasteless when the Germans, of all people, tell the Israelis what to do. But never in the history of Germany has a prominent intellectual confronted Israel with such dull clichés,” Sebastian Hammelehle wrote in Spiegel Online.
Prominent German-Jewish journalist and author Henryk M. Broder said Grass “always suffered from delusions of grandeur, but now he went completely insane.” Writing in the Die Welt daily, Broder added: “Grass always had a problem with Jews, but he never articulated this as openly as in this ‘poem.’”
Several senior politicians and the Germany’s Jewish community also criticized Grass for his poem.
The chairman of the Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumman, called it “an aggressive pamphlet of agitation,” adding that the text was irresponsible and turned the facts on their heads, since it is Iran and not Israel that threatened world peace.
The secretary-general of the governing CDU party, Hermann Gröhe, said he was “appalled” by the tone of the poem, according to Spiegel Online.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said: “In Germany, there is freedom of artistic expression, and fortunately the government also has the freedom not to have to comment on every work of art.”
An avowed social democrat, Grass faced harsh criticism after revealing that he served in the Waffen-SS, including calls to give back his Nobel Prize. For decades, he had acted as Germany’s moral authority, criticizing public figures for their Nazi past. “I do not understand how someone can elevate himself constantly for 60 years as the nation’s conscience, precisely in Nazi questions, and only then admit that he himself was deeply involved,” Joachim Fest, a prominent German historian, said at the time.
Just last year Grass made headlines again when he told Haaretz that of “eight million German soldiers who were captured by the Russians, perhaps two million survived and all the rest were liquidated,” seemingly suggesting that six million Germans were killed. The interviewer, Tom Segev, later defended Grass, asserting the poet didn’t mean to equate the postwar hardships of Germans with the Holocaust.