Shoot the messenger: poet attacked for alerting us to sale of 6th nuclear sub to Israel
Grass’s poem and some earlier comments were posted in “More power to Gunter Grass for ‘What must be said’”
By Jewdar, Heeb magazine
It’s hard to imagine a more mundane story–and yet somehow, Israel and its less clever defenders managed to turn “Dog Bites Man” into “Man Cries Hysterically and Overreacts Over Minor Nibble.” For those who haven’t been paying attention, Günter Grass, a German writer and Nobel Laureate who for some reason or another was seen as the moral conscience of a generation (something to do with opposing Nazism, though seeing as how it was the 1960′s at the time, it should have been a no-brainer) recently wrote a poem, in which he made some critical remarks about everybody’s favorite ethnically chauvinistic state (Jewdar is not being critical–it is our favorite ethnically chauvinistic state). Now, this should have been barely a blip on anybody’s radar screen, for several reasons.
It’s a poem, for God’s sake. Really, who the hell cares about poetry? Moreover, it’s the kind of crappy poetry that doesn’t rhyme, that’s full of trite, hackneyed lines (“aged and with my last ink”, really? Shall we expect that Mr. Grass won’t be writing anything else, now that his last ink has been used?) and that reads less like a poem than prose broken up into awkward sentence fragments. When you consider that–aside from a few lines about his personal feelings as a German criticizing Israel–it’s mostly an assortment of policy suggestions (like calling for Israeli and Iranian nuclear sites to be regulated by an international agency), the thing reads like an op-ed piece narrated by William Shatner (go ahead, try reading it like Captain Kirk, you’ll see what we mean.) Ode on a Grecian Urn, it ain’t.
It’s from Günter Grass. Granted, a Nobel Laureate, but the last thing he wrote that anybody paid attention to was the first installment of his memoir where he admitted to having been in the Waffen-SS.
He was in the Waffen-SS. Now, Jewdar knows enough history to neither care nor lay blame for a 17-old kid serving in the Waffen-SS. But you’d think it gives you some ammunition to work with if he engages in hyperbolic but fairly insignificant criticism of Israel. How about simply saying “Waffen-SS veteran criticizes Israel.” Hyperbolic but fairly insignificant, and gratifying and gets the point across.
The criticism was hyperbolic but fairly insignificant. Certainly, in its fairly mundane calls for international nuclear oversight, it’s hard to detect antisemitism, and accusations to that end seem a bit much. So he doesn’t want German to provide submarines to Israel that could be used to launch a nuclear strike on Iran, and he says that “the nuclear power Israel endangers the already fragile world peace.” One might argue that it is “the wannabe nuclear power Iran that endangers the already fragile world peace by threatening the nuclear power Israel,” but who are we to argue with a great intellectual light and moral voice like Günter Grass?
Now, as the headline of this piece suggests, this should be been nothing with nothing, except that a few days later, the Israeli gov’t announced that Grass was banned from Israel. In other words, after being negatively compared to an autocratic theocracy that penalizes speech, the Interior Minister from Shas penalizes speech, and in the most moronic way possible–by banning a writer who wasn’t coming to Israel anyway.
Now, of course, Israel’s less clever defenders will doubtless bristle and point out that while Iran issues death sentences against writers, Israel just bans them. But at the point at which your defense is that you are not as bad is Iran, haven’t you already lost?
Goldberg Slipping on Grass
Jerry Haber, Magnes Zionist
Günther Grass’s poem What must be said has been defended and attacked throughout the globe. The poem protests against the German sale of a nuclear submarine to Israel; appeals for international control of the Israel and Iranian nuclear program by an authority accepted by both governments; and, though by a German author, refuses to be silent about Israel’s nuclear power, despite Germany’s past crimes against the Jewish people (and humanity). Grass speaks as a German who does not want to be indirectly responsible for a horrific catastrophe, but rather, as he puts it, wants to give help to Israelis, Palestinians, and others in the region – “and, finally, to ourselves as well. This part of Grass’s poem, the main part, is eminently reasonable. Only a twisted mind would find it anti-Semitic or even anti-Zionist.
The poem employs, however, rhetoric that is offensive to Iranians and to Israelis. It calls the Iranian leader a loudmouth who keeps his people under his thumb and pushes them to organized cheering. It imputes to the Israeli leaders the claim to have a right to a first strike capability that could “snuff out” or “annihilate” the Iranian people by using the nuclear submarine sold it by the Germans. Both claims belong more to the exaggerated bombast of living rooms (and blogs) than to a serious cri de coeur. They demean the poet, and they enable the poem to be easily dismissed by the partisans.
But suppose Grass had been more accurate in his description of the possible consequences of Israel’s attack? Suppose that instead of writing “a strike to snuff out the Iranian people” he had written “a strike that may kill or maim hundreds of thousands of people”?
According to the Center for the Strategic and International Studies, a strike on the Bushehr Nuclear Reactor alone “will cause the immediate death of thousands of people living in or adjacent to the site, and thousands of subsequent cancer deaths or even up to hundreds of thousands depending on the population density along the contamination plume.”
Criticism of Israel on that score would not only not count as being anti-Semitic; it could even be advanced by those “sympathetic to Israel’s dilemma.” Or so says Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg:
The morality of a [pre-emptive Israeli] strike, which could cause substantial Iranian casualties, would be questioned even by those sympathetic to Israel’s dilemma.
Goldberg is astounded at the line that Grass did use and considers the poem anti-Semitic. But had Grass’s poem included the more “modest” claim of the possible hundreds of thousands of casualties, rather than the possible annihilation of the Iranian people, would Goldberg have dropped the anti-Semitism charge? In a post accusing Grass of anti-Semitism, Goldberg says that Israel is “contemplating targeting six to eight nuclear sites in Iran for conventional aerial bombardment,” which may be correct,though one retired American general thinks otherwise. There is, to be sure, a clear difference between the nuclear bombing of conventional sites and the conventional bombing of nuclear sites. But what they share in common is the possible causation of “substantial Iranian casualties,” to use Goldberg’s phrase. So why is Grass being anti-Semitic when he morally criticizes the consequences of an Israeli strike, whereas Goldberg is not?
If I understand Goldberg correctly, there are two distinctions between Grass’s standing vis-à-vis the moral criticism of Israel, and his own. First, Grass is a German and a former member of the SS. So he has to shut up – unless, perhaps, he proves himself to be one of those Germans who are “sympathetic to Israel’s dilemma.”
Second, Goldberg misreads Grass as saying that Israel seeks to annihilate the Iranians. This is nowhere stated or implied by Grass in his poem. Instead, he says that Israel seeks the right of a preventative first strike which could annihilate the Iranian people. What’s the difference between the two? Well, it’s the difference between saying that Israel attacked Gaza in Operation Cast Lead in a way that could (and, in fact, did) kill fourteen hundred Gazans and between saying that Israel sought to kill fourteen hundred Gazans.
Why does Goldberg read Grass in this way? He writes: “To make yourself believe that Israel is seeking to murder the 74 million people of Iran, you must make yourself believe that the leaders of the Jewish state outstrip Adolf Hitler in genocidal intent.”
Goldberg reads Grass as accusing Israel of outdoing Hitler in its evil “genocidal intent” – a reading that is interesting for what it says about Goldberg’s own mind, but it is more interesting for what it says about the manner in which some Israeli advocates think about criticism of Israeli military power, to turn one of Goldberg’s felicitous phrases. What could be more anti-Semitic than accusing Israel of being more genocidal than Hitler? After all, to call for a nuclear embargo on Israel is to imply that Israelis cannot be trusted to act responsibly in the use of nuclear weapons, or in the bombing of nuclear facilities. It is to demean the Israelis, to place them on the same level, if not lower, than the Islamist regime in Iran. It is to claim that like the Iranians the Israelis are not to be trusted with nuclear weapons because we suspect them of genocidal intent.
Goldberg writes: “On Iran’s threats to end the Jewish state — which was built on the ashes of the German Holocaust — Grass is tellingly silent.”
If by “being built on the ashes of the German Holocaust” Goldberg refers to Benny Morris’s comment that some Jewish soldiers in Palestine, fresh from the DP camps, considered the Arabs they were facing as if they were Nazi soldiers, the point is well taken.
But allow me to point out that only one country, Israel, has threatened to carry out a first strike against the other.
The president of only one country, Shimon Peres, has implicitly threatened a military strike that could wipe the other country off the face of history.
President Ahmadinejad, like Khrushchev and Reagan, should be criticized for inflammatory rhetoric. But not for military threats of a first strike.
And let’s not forget that Israel threatened Iran with a preventative attack in 2003, before Ahmadinejad was elected president.
Perhaps Mr. Goldberg will provide a link to Iran’s threats of military actions to end the Jewish state in a first strike. On this he is tellingly silent.
(More than a hat tip to Marsha B. Cohen, whose indispensable post on the human costs of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities should be required reading for anybody who cares about Iran, Israel – or humanity.)
Iran – Israel military comparison
Juan Cole, Informed comment
During Berlin press conference with Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister de Maiziere says ‘military escalation would bring incalculable risks for Israel and the region.’ Barak: To accept a nuclear Iran would be inconceivable
Germany said on Tuesday it will sell Israel a sixth military submarine and shoulder part of the cost, although it warned its ally that any military escalation with Iran could bring incalculable risks.
German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he shared Israel’s fear of a nuclear-armed Iran and he was convinced Tehran aimed to make nuclear weapons, but he called for caution.
“I recommend all sides show urgent restraint, both in their rhetoric and their action. A military escalation would bring incalculable risks for Israel and the region, to the detriment of Israel,” he told reporters at a press conference in Berlin with his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak.
Barak by contrast said all options regarding Iran should remain on the table, apart from containment. “To accept a nuclear Iran would be inconceivable and unacceptable to the whole world,” he said.
Germany, which after the Nazi-perpetrated Holocaust is absolutely committed to Israel’s security, has championed international diplomatic campaigns to rein in Tehran. But Berlin has also criticized Israel’s settlement-building program.
“Israel can be sure of German solidarity in questions of its sovereign integrity and its existence … but it is important that Israel and its partners make moves towards a solution of the Middle East conflict,” de Maiziere said.
Israel operates three German-built Dolphin submarines, manufactured by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW), a unit of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, and expects delivery of two more shortly. The vessels are considered a vanguard against foes like Iran.
Israel is threatening to take military action, with or without US support, if Iran is deemed to be continuing to defy pressure to curb its nuclear projects. Iran insists its nuclear energy program is purely non-military.
The Dolphins are small, diesel-powered submarines, designed for coastal patrols and equipped with 10 torpedo tubes.
Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear weapons, which it neither confirms nor denies. These could be onboard the Dolphins.
Israel’s purchase of a sixth submarine had been widely expected, although discussions over the degree of Germany’s contribution drew out the process.
“A further boat will be delivered to Israel and there will be financial help. It is part of the budget and is therefore a public action,” de Maiziere said.
Germany’s state budget for 2012 foresees spending of 135 million euros for “defense systems for Israel”, 70 million euros of which will fall this year.
Germany delivered the first three submarines between 1999-2000, two of which it paid for outright. In 2005 Germany struck a deal with Israel on another two submarines, this time paying a contribution of 333 million euros for both, amounting to about a third of the cost.