Saturday, April 7, 2012

What must be said

With his poem "What must be said", to be found here [DE], German nobel prize laureat Günter Grass stirred up a heated discussion in Germany. At the core of it: Can Germany, the country that bears responsibility for the Holocaust, criticize Israel? 

Public opinion in Germany seems to answer this question with a yes. Although I cannot find the figures, the majority of Germans looks at Israel's aggressive foreign policy with unease (and shows empathy with Palestinian citizens in the West Bank and the Gaza strip). When Günter Grass now writes that the "atomic power Israel endangers a world peace that is already crumbling" and criticizes the German shipment of a nuclear submarine to Israel, he speaks out what many German citizens have thought for a long time.

In other countries, this would not be a problem. But in Germany, where chancellor Merkel has declared Israel's security a piece of Germany's raison d'état and where a recent study has found "a banalization of antisemitist practices and rants that reaches far into the middle of the society", such a piece of criticism cannot be uttered without being called an antisemitist. German criticism of the state of Israel and of its government is always understood as criticism of the Israeli electorate, the Jewish nation. 

And yet, the state of Israel is evidently in breach of several UN resolutions that deal with Israeli settlements in the West Bank and has repeatedly expressed its desire for a preemptive strike on Iran which would defy the intentions of the UN Charter. You could conveniently argue that every world citizen with an interest in peace should have the right to criticize Israel for its policy, regardless of their nationality.

What Günter Grass therefore advocates in his capacity as a global citizen is to put both the Iranian and the Israeli nuclear programs under the scrutiny of an international authority. If you look at the situation without a Western bias, the question is justified: Why subject the Irani nuclear program to external control and make an exception for Israel, although its attack could endanger Iranian citizens just as much as an Iranian attack would endanger Israelis?

As a German or non-German, what do you think of the question?


  1. What I think of the question is that anyone who criticizes the actions of that specific rogue nation are label anti-semites, as if there weren't legitimate reasons to be concerned about the behavior of that country on the world stage.

    In my view, Germany should make defense of human rights and UN law part of its raison d'etre. If that brings it afoul of Israel, then the response should be "the law is the same for all nations" Israel has apparently already run afoul of Belgium's "Genocide Law".

  2. As a german with one or two israeli online acquaintances, i can say from second hand that even the israelis, as in the educated and informed progressives, themselves, would rather agree with grass..