German writer Gunter Grass is making the most of his recent disgraceful poem in which he sought to demonize Israel while portraying Iran as an innocent victim of aggression. In response to Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s declaration that the author of The Tin Drum was now persona non grata, Grass made a gratuitous comparison of the Jewish state to the former Soviet satellite state in East Germany and the current regime in Myanmar.
This exchange illustrates that paying too much attention to someone like Grass can be a big mistake. While the writer’s poem was worthy of condemnation, raising him to the status of a special case for exclusion as Yishai did merely allowed him to drag out the controversy and play the martyr. However, it bears mentioning that Israel actually has a valid reason to consider Grass ineligible for entry that has nothing to do with his views about the Iranian or Israeli nuclear programs because he is a veteran of the Waffen SS.
Indeed, were Grass merely an ordinary person rather than a Novel Laureate for Literature — a bauble he received for his work critical of Nazi Germany before the world discovered that he was in fact a member of one of the organizations responsible for carrying out the Holocaust — such an entry in his biography might put him on a watch list that would prevent his entry into the United States and some other Western countries.
Grass’ attempt to compare Israel to East Germany and Myanmar may make sense to European anti-Semites who are convinced that the Jewish state is the font of all the evil in the world. But has it escaped even the octogenarian writer that while all three may have wanted to exclude him, the other two are police states that terrorized their own people while Israel is the only real democracy in the Middle East?
Though Grass has sought to clarify his poem and said that he should have merely aimed his criticism at Israel’s current government, his attempt to demonize the country while ignoring the vile anti-Semitism and threats against the Jewish state from Iran are not merely wrongheaded. They are an expression of a new anti-Semitism that seeks to delegitimize Israel and to deny it the right of self-defense against a regime that seeks the mantle of Hitler. The boundary between what Grass has said and written and Jew-hatred is a distinction without a difference.