Moral Low Ground


Israel Bans Nobel Prize-Winner Günter Grass over Poem

A Nobel Prize-winning German poet has been barred from entering Israel after he published a poem critical of both the Jewish state and Iran.

According to the Huffington Post, 84-year-old Günter Grass, author of The Tin Drum and winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize for Literature, has been denied entry into Israel after he published What Must Be Said, a poem that slams Western hypocrisy regarding the Jewish state’s nuclear program.

The poem also criticizes Iran’s “loudmouth” leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as Israel’s “first strike” doctrine “that could destroy the Iranian people.” The poem also examines Germany’s delicate relationship with the Jewish state and criticizes the German government for selling “yet another submarine equipped to transport nuclear warheads.”

Israeli officials were quick to slam and ban Grass. They also wasted no time in pointing out that he was drafted into the Waffen-SS Nazi paramilitary group at age 17 during the final days of World War II. But there is nothing extraordinary about this; Grass did not choose to be a Nazi, he only did what he had to do to survive during those dark days. Even the current Pope was drafted into the Hitler Youth as an adolescent.

Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced that Grass would be prohibited from entering the Jewish state, citing a law that allows for ex-Nazis to be banned. But it was clear that the decision to blacklist the Nobel laureate had more to do with his latest poem than with his involuntary Nazi past.

“If Günter wants to spread his twisted and lying works, I suggest he does this from Iran, where he can find a supportive audience,” Yishai said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called Grass an anti-Semite, a tried-and-true weapon in Israel’s arsenal against critics of the Jewish state’s many crimes against the Palestinians and others in the region. This is a curious allegation, since Grass has never said anything disparaging about the Jewish people. Contrast that with Lieberman’s racist rants against Arabs. He once declared that Israel’s Arab citizens “have no place” in the Jewish state and should “take their bundles and get lost.” Lieberman, who has called for the ethnic cleansing of Israel’s Palestinians, nevertheless feels entitled to make groundless accusations of anti-Semitism against a Nobel Prize-winning author.

What many Zionists fail to understand is that most opposition to Israeli invasion, occupation and humiliation of the Palestinians is no more rooted in anti-Semitism than opposition by Native Americans or black South Africans to European genocide or apartheid is “anti-white.” Former Israeli Education Minister Shulamit Aloni candidly admitted that the tactic of smearing Israel’s critics as anti-Semites is “a trick.” “We always use it,” she told Democracy Now.

Israeli Holocaust historian Tom Segev, while opining that Grass’ allegations are “absurd,” expressed his belief that Israel’s response was disproportionate and indicative of a troubling intolerance of criticism.

“The need to delegitimize criticism is a very dangerous, autocratic tendency which has increased in recent years. It’s very demagogic. Netanyahu and Leiberman are experts in doing that. Every word of criticism will immediately be presented as a sign of anti-Semitism,” Segev told the Huffington Post.

“If we are really distributing entry permits to Israel according to people’s political views, then we really are putting ourselves in the company of countries like Iran, and Syria,” he added.

Grass joins a distinguished list of  international figures banned from entering or expelled from Israel, a list which includes leading American intellectual Noam Chomsky (who hails from a Jewish family), Irish Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire and Jewish-American academic Norman Finkelstein.

To read Günter Grass’ poem What Must Be Said,click here.

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