One aspect of the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe that is particularly perplexing for onlookers is the way hatred of Israel and Jews has been taken up by leading intellectuals. Perhaps the most egregious example of this trend is that of Gunter Grass. Grass, a Nobel laureate for literature and perhaps one of the leading figures of German letters of the postwar era, is a veteran leftist known for his hatred for the United States as well as his background as a member of the Hitler Youth and the Waffen SS under the Nazi regime. But yesterday, the author of The Tin Drum was back in the news for writing a poem defending Iran and attacking Israel.
Grass not only denied that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon but also denounced German support for Israel and called on the German government to halt the sale of submarines that are key to the Jewish state’s deterrence against aggression. Though Iran’s leaders have repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel as well as denying the Holocaust, Grass promotes a new blood libel when he claims it is Israel that is plotting to wipe out Iran and is the primary threat to world peace.
It is telling that even as hard-core an Israeli leftist as author Tom Segev was willing to denounce Grass’ latest effort in Haaretz. Though he put the poem down as being “more pathetic than anti-Semitic,” Segev made it clear the German’s attempt to paint Israel as the villain and Iran as the victim was absurd:
Grass’ comparison of Israel and Iran is unfair, because unlike Iran, Israel has never threatened to wipe another country off the map. And contrary to Grass’ sanctimonious verses, under no circumstances would a military action against Iran lead to the extermination of the Iranian people, because as far as we know, it would exclusively target the country’s nuclear facilities.
Few could dispute that the world will be a better place without an Iranian nuclear weapon. And not only in Israel – also the northern German town of Lubeck, the capital of marzipan, where Grass writes, paints and sculpts, will be a better place if Iran doesn’t get the bomb. Grass basks in hypocritical moralism and agonizes over not having condemned Israel’s nuclear capacity earlier. … One gets the impression Grass’ act of “breaking the silence” is more a self-contained personal experience than anything else. Neither can one escape the notion that he seeks to recreate the shock waves of his confession six years ago about his service in the Waffen SS during World War II.
Segev was right to note that Israelis are having a debate about whether an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is necessary or wise. But he is wrong to acquit Grass of anti-Semitism. His work is indicative of a desire to demonize the one Jewish state in the world while whitewashing the record of an Islamist regime awash in Jew-hatred and dedicated to annihilating Israel. Like many other European intellectuals, Grass adopts a pose in which he claims to be innocent of anti-Semitism. His vitriol aimed at Israel and his assistance to the campaign to strip it of its right to self-defense betrays his motives and ideology.
The spectacle of a former Nazi penning a rationalization of a regime that promotes a similar style of hate for Jews may well be pathetic. But that such a person is treated as the conscience of his nation speaks volumes about the debased nature of intellectual discourse in contemporary Europe. Thanks to figures like Grass and other leading lights of the arts such as Britain’s Emma Thompson, anti-Semitism is having its best days in Europe since the author was saluting Hitler in the SS.