There can’t be many Nobel laureates who served in the Waffen SS. In fact I can only think of one - Günter Grass, author of The Tin Drum, Germany’s best known writer and the self-appointed moral arbiter of his nation and its times. He was, not surprisingly, a tad ashamed of his background, which meant he kept quite about it for decades, all the while throwing around homilies on this on that and on the other, a little like Zeus firing lightening bolts from Olympus.
Now he has written a poem, not about his Nazi past but about the ‘threat’ that a nuclear-armed Israel represents to world peace. The poem called What Must Be Said was published last week in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. He can say what he likes, this great moral arbiter, I just wish he hadn’t said it poetically, or not very poetically, if you take my meaning. In German the rhyming scheme is distinctly second rate; in English it’s awful!
Never mind his poetry; let’s just focus on the politics. Grass, as a former SS man, is an expert on lies, a simple truth evidenced by his ghastly poem. He says, in the best Nazi style, that there has been a ‘conspiracy of silence’ about Israel’s nuclear capability. There has been nothing of the sort. He says that Israel is a threat to world peace;
Why do I only speak out now
Aged and with my last drop of ink:
Israel’s nuclear power is endangering
Our already fragile world peace?
Yes, why do you speak out now, aged and with your last drop of ink, when you hid more telling and immediate truths for so long? With his last drop of ink he has given comfort to Iran and its Holocaust-denying president, the real threat to world peace. Predictably enough Iran’s state-owned English language service described his political doggerel as a ‘literary sensation.’ “Metaphorically speaking”, it went on, “the poet has launched a deadly lyrical strike against Israel.”
Israel has launched its own counter-strike. Binyamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, came out fighting the day after the poem was published –“Günter Grass's shameful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran ... says little about Israel and much about Mr Grass." He went on to describe Iran as "a regime that denied the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel”, adding that "It is Iran, not Israel, that is a threat to the peace and security of the world."
That, to me, would seem to be so obvious as to be axiomatic. This dangerous clerical-fascist regime has threatened several times now to ‘annihilate’ Israel. We now know that the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameni, personally ordered recent attacks on Israeli diplomats. He also plotted the assassination of the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington. A nuclear Iran is a threat not just to the existence of Israel but to the security and stability of the whole region.
Grass, beating his tin drum, is the latest symptom of the new anti-Semitism that is haunting Europe. There is a wonderful irony that this doyen of the liberal left has brought something of his former and more atavistic loyalties to bear; that a man whose honour was loyalty is now demanding that the Jewish people disarm themselves in the eye of the greatest threat since Hitler.