Nobel Prize-winning author Günter Grass uses poem to say a nuclear-armed Israel is a threat to world peace
By Sameer Rahim
The German Nobel laureate and novelist Günter Grass has attacked Israel as a threat to an “already fragile world peace” in a poem published on Wednesday on the front page of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a leading German daily based in Munich.
The poem “Was gesagt werden muss”, translated as “Somebody Must Say It”, criticises what it claims is western hypocrisy over Israel’s nuclear programme given the current speculation over whether the Jewish state will attack Iran to prevent it from building a nuclear bomb. A decision by the German government to sell a submarine capable of carrying nuclear warheads apparently provoked him to pick up his pen.
In the work he calls for both Israel and Iran to accept international regulations of their atomic programmes. Israel is generally regarded to have nuclear weapons but has never admitted this; instead it has an official policy of “ambiguity”. Iran has always denied it is seeking a nuclear weapon.
Grass’s poem specifically criticises Israel’s “claim to the right of a first strike” against Iran, but also refers to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a “loudmouth” who “subjugates” his people.
Grass says he has been silent on Israel’s nuclear programme because Germany committed “crimes that are without comparison” during the Second World War. But silence, he says, has become a “burdensome lie and a coercion” and that for those who speak up “the verdict ‘anti-semitism’ is commonly used”.
The Nobel-Prize winning author is most famous for his novel The Tin Drum (1959), one of the first literary depictions of the violence of the Nazi regime from a German perspective. Regarded for many years as the conscience of Germany, the nation was shocked in 2006 when he admitted in his autobiography Peeling the Onion (for the first time) that he had fought for the Waffen-SS in the final months of the war.
Given this background German newspapers from both Left and Right were swift to critcise the author. “How blind do you have to be to ignore the actual circumstances [in the Middle East] this way?” wrote Die Welt while Der Spiegel said his “poor taste” obscured his arguments. It also drew the ire of Jewish organistions in Germany.
Steffen Seibert, a spokesperson for the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was more sanguine. “There is artistic freedom in Germany, and there thankfully also is the freedom of the government not to have to comment on every artistic production” he said.