German Jews agree with travel ban on Grass

Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s decided to ban Günter Grass from visiting Israel because of the writer’s anti-Semitic poem.

April 11, 2012 02:52
3 minute read.
German writer Günter Grass

German writer Günter Grass 370 (R). (photo credit: Susana Vera / Reuters)

BERLIN – Leading German Jewish intellectuals expressed support on Tuesday for Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s decision to ban Günter Grass from visiting Israel because of the writer’s anti-Semitic poem.

The Munich-based Jewish historian Michael Wolffsohn told the daily Tagesspiegel that the ban was “absolutely legitimate.” Wolffsohn, a contemporary history professor at the Bundeswehr University in Munich and Israeli native, said it is important to show the world that criticism is permitted ”but not from former SS people.”

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It is unacceptable that an author who was silent about his history for over 60 years and has not really processed it “is now elevated to a moral authority in general and over the descendants of the victims of the Nazis in particular,” he said.

Grass covered up his WWII membership in the SS – a unit that played a key role in murdering Jews – for six decades until 2006 when he confessed in an interview that he was a member of the Nazi organization.

The Jewish journalist and author Ralph Giordano told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper that he could “absolutely understand the Netanyahu government” and its reaction to Grass. Giordano survived the Holocaust in hiding and has authored books on Germany and its failures and successes in working through its Nazi history.

Giordano justified the ban because of the existential threat that the Jewish state faces from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In his poem, published in various newspapers last week, Grass asserted that Israel seeks to “extinguish the Iranian people” and that Israel is the principal threat to world peace.

In contrast to Giordano and Wolffsohn, Harvard University law Prof. Alan Dershowitz wrote a Huffington Post opinion piece titled “Günter Grass Shouldn’t Be Barred From Israel.”

Dershowitz argued that the interior minister’s decision is “both foolish and self-defeating.”

“Grass’s poem has also been effectively critiqued by Israelis across the political and literary spectrum. That is as it should be in an open, vibrant democracy, accustomed to rancorous public debate. But a great nation, committed to freedom of expression and dissent, should not bar a critic, even a critic as bigoted as Grass, from its territory,” he wrote.

“Günter Grass has always had a problem with Jews, from his early days as a member of the Hitler youth and Nazi SS to his most recent application of a nasty double standard to the Jewish state. But his ridiculous poem doesn’t pose any security threat to Israel that would justify his physical exclusion from the country.”

Dershowitz wrote he believes that Grass “should be welcomed in Israel and shown the real facts on the ground: That Israel is a tiny country doing its best to defend itself against existential threats posed by Iran’s determination to develop nuclear weapons and by the increasing radical Islamization of Israel’s neighborhood. He should also be shown why Israel’s submarines, which provide a second-strike capacity, serve as a deterrent to a possible nuclear attack by Iran. He should be made to feel shame for misusing his literary talents in the interests of bigotry and falsehood.”

Author Salman Rushdie also criticized the Israeli government decision on Tuesday, calling it “infantile.”

It is “OK to dislike [or] even be disgusted by the poem, but to ban him is infantile pique,” the Indian-born writer posted on his Twitter feed. “The answer to words must always be other words.”

Rushdie has been under an Iranian fatwa, or death threat, since 1989, after he published The Satanic Verses, which critics claim depicts the prophet Muhammad in an irreverent manner.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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