In the first of two posts on German-Israeli relations, Felix Berenskoetter goes against the grain to ask whether the controversial poem by Guenter Grass ‘What must be said’ can be read as an act of friendship vis-à-vis Israel.
In April this year, Günter Grass, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and one of Germany’s most respected living novelists, wrote a poem that was published on the front page of a leading daily German newspaper. The poem critically addressed the possibility of an Israeli attack of Iran and warned about Germany’s role in this configuration.
Specifically, Grass claims that, by playing with the idea of a pre-emptive military strike on Iran, Israel is endangering ‘world peace’. He also criticizes a Western double-standard in quietly tolerating Israeli nuclear arsenal while disallowing it to other states in the region. His main target is the silence (or so he claims) in Germany over these issues, sustained by historical guilt that generates a felt obligation to unconditionally support Israel and to avoid critique as not to be accused of anti-semitism. Grass warns that this puts Germany in a problematic position as an Israeli attack on Iran would make Germany complicit in a crime, not least because it supplies Israel with military equipment, especially submarines capable of launching nuclear warheads. The poem concludes with a call for efforts to counter Israeli plans to attack Iran and to place both Israeli and Iranian nuclear potential under international control regimes. While Grass puts all this forward as a personal concern, it is clear that he sees himself speaking as a public intellectual, a representative of a particular generation if not the German people as such.