Germany’s relationship with the Jewish people is complicated. Jews cannot and will not bring themselves to forgive Germany for the Holocaust – reparations notwithstanding. At the same time, Germany has gone a long way toward facing its dark past. And Chancellor Angela Merkel is perhaps one of Germany’s most pro-Israeli leaders ever.

As a result, an uncomfortable dynamic is created: While it is legitimate for Germans, as friends of Israel, to offer constructive criticism of Israeli policies, it is understandably not easy for Israelis to accept such criticism, coming as it does from a people who proved more than any other on the face of the earth the Jews’ need to stop relying on the goodwill of host countries and to embrace instead political self-determination and sovereignty in their historical homeland.

But when he penned the poem, “What Must Be Said,” Günter Grass, Germany’s most famous living writer who is considered a moral compass in his homeland, callously displayed a disappointing moral bankruptcy.

Grass’s poem and the attempts by himself and other of his countrymen to defend it raise the question whether Germans – at least those supporting Grass – have learned anything from history.

In “What Must Be Said,” Grass claims that it is Israel, not the fanatic Shi’ite mullahs of Iran, that “endangers an already fragile world peace.” Grass must know that Israel – even if it were to launch a military strike against Iran to stop it from developing a nuclear bomb – would use conventional weapons.

Nevertheless, he concocts a far-fetched and completely unsubstantiated scenario, according to which Israel will resort to nuclear capabilities reportedly at its disposal for “war games, at the end of which those of us who survive will at best be footnotes.”

This is the same Israel, which, if foreign news reports are to be believed, responsibly refrained from using its nuclear capabilities, even during periods of existential threat such as the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when defense minister Moshe Dayan warned of the “destruction of the third Temple” and Israel’s political leadership, including prime minister Golda Meir, were genuinely concerned that the combined armies of the Arab states would succeed in destroying Israel.

Why would Grass make up a story that Israel is planning to use nuclear weapons against the Iranian people? Grass claims in his poem that he remained silent until now because he knew he would be labeled an anti-Semite.

But what else can be said about a man who ignores Iran’s deadly combination of Holocaust denial and sponsorship of terrorism against Israel and instead singles out for censure Israel, a country seeking since its establishment to live in peace with its neighbors, though stubbornly refusing to be “wiped off the map”? Why is Grass so intent on forcing Israel to relinquish its reported nuclear capability? Does he really think that he, an 84-year-old German who was a member of the Waffen SS as a teenager, should be the one recommending that Israel compromise its deterrence capability and, in the process, expose itself to existential threats?

Jews have ample unpleasant experiences of what it is to be powerless in the face of our enemies and to be let down by others who have the ability to defend us but choose not to.

The establishment of a robust Israel with the necessary means to defend itself against its enemies is the Jewish people’s answer to that humiliating state of affairs.

As noted by Benjamin Weinthal, The Jerusalem Post’s correspondent in Germany, the controversy surrounding Grass’s poem has brought to the fore a modern manifestation of anti-Semitism, which is actually a form of mental pathology. Germans such as Grass are filled with Holocaust-era guilt. To alleviate their dissonance, some Germans project their feelings of guilt onto Israel.

But regardless of the psychological mechanics behind his despicable poem, Grass, at the end of his life, has now been “exposed.” We hope he regains his moral bearings and issues a complete retraction. Anything less will cast a shadow on Grass’s reputation as a moral voice for Germans who came of age in the generation after the Shoah.

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