Foes or friends, this must be heard:
In Germany, a poem was written so bad,
It caused some people to go insane;
But before it goes to your head as well,
And even though it shook the world;
This must be said: what a mess!
Gunter Grass’ poem, “This Must Be Said,”—which very few people have read—caused a major international uproar, especially in Israel. This makes sense, actually, since Grass’ poem, published in a German newspaper on April 3, was directed at Israel. This must be said, though: the arrow hit the target full speed, causing the wounded state to react in many ways as if, indeed, it is guilty. Growing up in Israel, we kids had a favorite saying: “The hat on the thief’s head is burning.” In other words: the guilty party is always “crying wolf” and shouting loudly the most. Stop crying all the time about anti-Semitism every time someone criticizes Israel. It lessens the memory of the Holocaust, the Jews who died there, the survivors who are still alive, and all of us to boot. Stop it!
Now to the facts: The poem is bad (and I’ve read it). This is not Yevgeny Yevtushenk’s Babi Yar, not by a long shot. This is not Emile Zoal’s J’accuse (I accuse) letter, published in a Paris newspaper in January 1898, at the height of the Alfred Dreyfus’ affair. This is hardly a poem, anyhow, more like a political pamphlet. Mr. Grass—author of the renowned anti-war novel “The Tin Drum, and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999—could do much better. Here’s a stanza from it (translated by Alessandro Ghebreigziabiher):
And then why do I avoid myself
to call the other country with its name,
where since years – even if secretly covered -
there is an increasing nuclear power,
without control, because unreachable
by every inspection?
This arrow hit the target because, essentially, there is some truth in it; and as Grass pointed out, it should’ve been said a long time ago. Another words: that Israel posses a large arsenal of nuclear weapons, and that it protects its right to posses it, while doing everything in its power not only not to admit to it, but that nobody else should have it. And while, supposedly, it protects the Jewish State, it also threatens the peace. Because it allows Israel, as a result of that, to behave like a bully—killing and kidnapping people all over the Middle East and beyond, occupying the West Bank and essentially depriving the Palestinian People not only of a country of their own, but of basic human rights as well.
And yes, Mr. Netanyahu was right when he reacted and said: “It is Iran, not Israel, that is a threat to the peace and security of the world. It is Iran, not Israel, that threatens other states with annihilation.” So while Grass’ comparison between the two countries—one, Israel, a democracy; the other, Iran, a theocracy—might be wrong, and the accusations misleading, the essential part is true: if one country can have nuclear weapons, why not the other? Just because you believe you’re right and they’re wrong? Modern history proves, in fact, that when you have two powers with nuclear weapons against each other—America and Russia, India and Pakistan—the deterrent creates peace, not war.
Some commentators, even in the left leaning Haaretz, such as Mr. Anshel Pfeffer, wrote that “Having served in the organization that tried, with a fair amount of success, to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth he (i.e. Mr. Grass) should keep his views to himself when it comes to the Jews’ doomsday weapon.” Now, this is a very strong statement. But what it says, really, is shut up! Only we Jews have the right to say whatever we want to say, and do whatever we want to do—and posses the weapons we want to posses—because we suffered the Holocaust!
Even worst, was the action of the Israeli Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, who declared Grass persona non grata, preventing him from entering Israel. This is like silencing your critics (as Israel just did by preventing activists from flying into Israel; Mr. Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to America, tried to prevent CBS from airing a story on 60 Minutes this past Sunday). Oy Vey, what’s going on here? We lost our marbles it seems. Thankfully, Haaretz finally wrote an editorial pointing out that the decision of the Interior Minister was wrong. I see it as the height of hypocrisy: Israel, of all nations and people, trying to prevent other people from speaking their mind. What are they afraid of over there? The truth, maybe?
We better remember, these days in particular, of that seminal humanistic, political statement—we can safely call it a poem: “First They Came…”—that a pastor named Martin Niemoller (yes, a German!) wrote about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets.
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me.