Why We Need an Open Debate on Israel


Jakob Augstein weighs in on the Günter Grass controversy, in Spiegel:

A great poem it is not. Nor is it a brilliant political analysis. But the brief lines that Günter Grass has published under the title “What Must Be Said” will one day be seen as some of his most influential words. They mark a rupture. It is this one sentence that we will not be able to ignore in the future: “The nuclear power Israel is endangering a world peace that is already fragile.”

It is a sentence that has triggered an outcry. Because it is true. Because it is a German, an author, a Nobel laureate who said it. Because it is Günter Grass who said it. And therein lies the breach. And, for that, one should thank Grass. He has taken it upon himself to utter this sentence for all of us. A much-delayed dialogue has begun. It is a discussion about Israel and whether Israel is preparing a war against Iran, a country whose leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened Israel, referring to it as a “cancer” that must be “wiped off the map.” Israel, a country that has been surrounded by enemies for decades, many of whom believe that Israel has no right to exist — even independent of its policies.

It is a war that could plunge the entire world into the abyss. When a German speaks about such things, Germany must be part of the discussion — and Germany's historical responsibility.

Such debates follow a pre-established pattern. Grass knew that he would be chided as an anti-Semite — a risk taken by any German critic of Israel. Indeed, Mathias Döpfner — the head of the publishing house Axel Springer, the parent company of the country's largest daily, Bild — accused Grass of “politically correct anti-Semitism” in a Thursday editorial. Döpfner, a man who fancies himself the guardian of German-Israeli relations, also suggested that Grass should be committed to a historical rehabilitation center and inserts a few jabs about Grass' long-secret World War II membership in the Waffen-SS. Yes, Grass has to deal with such charges, as well.

(Also on the German reaction to Israel's ban on Grass here.)