First published in Socialist Worker (UK)
17 April 2012
Günter Grass, the German writer and Nobel laureate, has been in the headlines recently for his poem “What Must Be Said”.
The poem criticises Israel for its nuclear weapons arsenal and the German government for selling submarines to Israel. It warns that an Israeli attack on Iran could wipe out the Iranian people.
This has caused commentators and politicians from all Germany’s mainstream political parties to accuse Grass of antisemitism.
One journalist even went as far as saying, “Grass once wore the uniform of a SS trooper—now he writes like one.”
In 2006 Grass published a memoir entitled Peeling the Onion. In the book he revealed that he enrolled into the Waffen-SS aged just 17 at the end of the Second World War. Prior to this the public had assumed Grass had simply been a German soldier, just like most other young men of his generation.
Grass’s silence on his wartime record lost him much of the moral authority he had built as a principled anti-fascist who used the power of his books to speak about the crimes of the Nazis.
But by no stretch of the imagination is Grass an antisemite. In Germany it is almost impossible to criticise Israel without being accused of antisemitism.
The publication of his poem has made Grass a persona non grata, not only in Israel but inside the SPD, Grass’s own party and Germany’s equivalent of Labour.
Only the radical left party Die Linke has stood by Grass. It has condemned the “inflationary use of antisemitism” in Germany and warned about the devastating effects a war on Iran might have.
Grass’s poem attacks the hypocrisy of those in German society who use the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews as an excuse for turning a blind eye to Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.
The fact that the German elite and mainstream have reacted so angrily to Grass’s poem shows that it will take many more people like him to end this hypocrisy.
It isn’t Grass who’s the problem—it’s the US and Israel, and their warmongering in the Middle East.