BERLIN - Germany’s most famous living writer, the Nobel literature laureate Günter Grass, defended the content of his poem attacking the alleged jingoism of the Jewish state, but said in media interviews that the subjects of his criticism are Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the policies of Israel's government.
The 84-year-old social democratic activist and former member of the Nazi Waffen SS published a poem on Wednesday entitled “What must be said” in the left-liberal Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung. He accused Israel of planning a first nuclear strike against Iran to “extinguish the Iranian people” and noted that Israel is the principal impediment to world peace.
After mounting criticism in the German media, including accusations that he is an “educated anti-Semite,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung
on Friday and a German television station on Thursday that, in retrospect, he should have avoided the word Israel and criticized the policies of the current Israeli government.
According to the interview in the Süddeutsche Zeitung
, Grass said he criticized “the policies that continue to go against every UN resolution against settlement construction.” He continued: “The man who damages Israel the most at the moment is, in my opinion, Netanyahu — and I should have included that in the poem.” Grass added that Israel’s policies “are creating ever more enemies of Israel, and are ever more increasing the country’s isolation.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu scolded Grass on Thursday for his “ignorant and reprehensible statements.” Netanyahu said that Grass covered up his Nazi membership in the Waffen SS. “It is Iran, not Israel, that is a threat to the peace and security of the world,” Netanyahu said. He continued that “It is Iran, not Israel, that threatens other states with annihilation. It is Iran, not Israel, that supports terror organizations that fire rockets on innocent civilians. It is Iran, not Israel, that is supporting the Syrian regime’s massacre of its own people. It is Iran, not Israel, that stones women, hangs gays and brutally represses tens of millions of its own citizens.”
German media reported that The New York Times
published the poem. However, in an email to The Jerusalem Post
on Thursday, Eileen Murphy, spokeswoman for the paper in New York, wrote,”This appears to be misinformation in the German press. While we don't typically discuss what we plan to publish on our op-ed pages, I can tell you that our op-ed editor has never seen this piece and as far as we can tell, it was not submitted to us.”
Grass’s poem prompted praise from Iran’s government and press. Press TV, Iran's state-owned English-language television station, noted. "Never before in Germany's postwar history has a prominent intellectual attacked Israel in such a courageous way… Metaphorically speaking, the poet has launched a deadly lyrical strike against Israel."
Iranian Deputy Culture Minister Javad Shamaqdari issued a letter to Grass, writing, "I read your literary work of human and historical responsibility, and it warns beautifully."
Some German intellectuals have voiced support for Grass's poem. Klaus Staeck, the president of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin, defended Grass, saying on German radio that it is Grass’s “duty as a citizen” to intervene. Johano Strasser, the head of the German section of Pen, praised Grass’s criticism of Israel’s threats against Iran.
In contrast to Strasser and Staeck, the German-French Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld compared Grass’s word choice to Hitler’s speech in 1939.“If Grass looks at himself in the mirror, does he see a Noble Prize laureate or an old Waffen SS member?”, asked Klarsfeld.
In commentaries in „Münchner Merku
r and Die Welt
on Saturday, Rolf Hochhuth, a distinguished playwright in Germany, who exposed the Vatican’s support of Nazism in his work, wrote about Grass, “You remained what you voluntarily became: the SS man.” The 81-year-old Hochhuth blasted Grass for failing to see that since Hitler's time, there has been no other state except for Iran that has threatened to wipe out the Jewish people.
The Polish-born German Jewish literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki termed Grass’s poem on Saturday to be "disgusting.“ Reich-Ranicki is widely considered to be Germany’s most important poem and book critic.
Writing in Saturday’s Die Welt
, the US Political Scientist Daniel Jonah Goldhagen said Grass” falsified his own Nazi past” and sharply criticized Grass for claiming Israel plans a nuclear attack against Iran when Tehran’s leaders have threatened Israel with nuclear destruction.
The Berlin-based opinion page editor of the prestigious daily Tagesspiegel
, Malte Lehming , wrote: “Is Günter Grass an anti-Semite? Yes, he is that. His most recent poem could have exactly been called “The Jews Are Our Misfortune.”’
The Nazi-era slogan “The Jews Are Our Misfortune” coined by the anti-Semitic historian Heinrich Gotthardt von Treitschke appeared in the Nazi Der Stürmer
paper. Lehming delves into the genealogy of Grass’s psyche and shows that he ends up where he started in life, namely, by the Nazi Waffen-SS.