The Guardian:Günter Grass and changing German attitudes towards Israel

Date: April 9, 2012 6:01:28 PM PDT

Subject: The Heresy of Günter Grass and Changing German Attitudes Towards Israel




Günter Grass and changing German attitudes towards Israel

The poet hopes his latest work, What Must Be Said, will prompt others to break their silence about Israel’s nuclear weapons.

The Guardian 

BERLIN — The anti-war poem published by Günter Grass is a subtle but straightforward example of a
tendency in Germany that the historian Dan Diner has called “exonerating projection”: the relativization of the Holocaust® through the implicit equation of Israel with Nazi Germany. In the poem, “What Must Be Said,” the 84 year-old Nobel prize-winner, who was a member of the Waffen-SS, as a teenager imagines himself as a “survivor” of an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran.

What must be said, according to Grass, is that “the nuclear power Israel” — rather than Iran — “endangers an already fragile world peace.” Grass says he had not spoken out previously because his nationality “forbade” it: any German breaking the silence on the Israel nuclear program may be accused of anti-Semitism.


But, Grass goes on, the recent agreement to sell a sixthGerman Dolphin submarine to Israel meant Germany would now be partly responsible for “a crime that can be foreseen.” It could not therefore make “any of the usual excuses” — presumably a reference to excuses made by Germans about the
Holocaust®. Grass thus felt he must break his silence “with my last drop of ink” — suggesting that this is the writer’s last word. He says he hopes the poem will prompt others to “liberate themselves from silence” about Israel’s nuclear weapons.

The publication of the poem in the Süddeutsche Zeitungand other European newspapers has already prompted furious reactions in Germany and Israel. [The Jewish writer] Josef Joffe writes in Die Zeit that Grass’s poem was more about self-exoneration than about submarines. In an interview with Der Spiegel, the Israeli historian Tom Segev says that the poem seems to be more about Grass’s long silence about his own Nazi past than about German silence about Israel’s nuclear program.


However, what makes the publication of the poem significant is that it expresses a sense of anger against Israel that — justified or not — many Germans seem increasingly to share. This anger is partly a response to Israel’s rightward shift during the past decade. But it seems also to be a product of developments in Germany and in particular the way that the Holocaust® has receded in significance during the last decade. Increasingly, Germans seem to see themselves as victims rather than perpetrators.

A poll in January 2009 — during the Gaza war — suggested that German attitudes to Israel were in flux. Nearly half of respondents said they saw Israel as an “aggressive country” and only around a third of respondents said they felt Germany had a special responsibility towards Israel. Sixty percent said Germany had no special responsibility (the figure was even higher among younger Germans and among those living in the former East Germany).


This anger against Israel is exacerbated by the sense some Germans have of not being able to say what they really think — as Grass suggests in the poem. This has created a pent-up resentment towards Israel that could at some point explode. It will be interesting to see whether Grass’s poem leads in the next few weeks and months to the debate about Germany’s “special relationship” with Israel that he seems to hope it would.

Angela Merkel — who has declined to comment on Grass’s poem — is personally committed to the Jewish state but is under increasing pressure on this issue, on which she is unusually out of step with German public opinion.


Last year, Germany voted in favor of a UN resolution demanding a halt to Israeli settlement expansion — an unusual break with Israel. Later in the year, Germany opposed the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN. But according to one poll, 84% of Germans supported Palestinian statehood and 76% believed Germany should act to recognize it — an even higher proportion in each case than in France or the UK.

An Israeli military strike on Iran could create a sudden rupture between Germany and Israel in the way that the Iraq war did between Germany and the US. My sense is that were Israel to launch a military strike on Iran, what remaining sympathy there is in Germany for Israel would evaporate almost overnight.


A military strike would prompt another competition in Germany between the two principles of “Never again war” and “Never again Auschwitz”, like the one that took place during the Kosovo war in 1999. At that time, Germans seemed to choose “Never again Auschwitz”. But my instinct is that, a decade later, they would choose “Never again war.”

WRITER GÜNTER GRASS — Atoning for previous lapses?




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