Günter Grass on Israel: a failed intervention | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 05.04.2012
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Günter Grass on Israel: a failed intervention

It's ok to criticize or start a debate. But Günter Grass should have written a political essay rather than a poem, says DW's Bettina Marx.

Günter Grass

Günter Grass

Günter Grass has done a disservice to all those who warn of an Israeli attack on Iran. Now they must all be made culpable for his overblown rhetoric. With his curious poem he has overshot the mark to such an extent that one can only shake one's head.

The Israeli government is not planning its first atomic strike against Iran, as he suggests in his verses. And Israel harbors no fantasies regarding the annihilation of the Islamic republic, which itself denies the Jewish state the right to existence.

The entire bolted-together style of the poem shows how inhibited the poet is. He says he cannot mention the name of the Middle Eastern state which already holds atomic weapons - but then does so just a few lines later. That he should amalgamate the important political discussions concerning a possible Israeli attack on Iran and the unforeseeable consequences it would have with his biased opinion of Israel is embarrassing and inappropriate. And the fact that he sees himself in the role of martyr to the cause, who bravely speaks the uncomfortable truths despite the threat of being accused of anti-Semitism, is pathetic.

An important debate

The issue, however, is an important one and the debate about it absolutely necessary. An Israeli air strike on an Iranian nuclear plant could have uncontrollable consequences for the entire region. It could plunge the Middle East into a cycle of escalation, which Israel itself could not escape. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, himself a decisive proponent of the strike plans, let it be known that a few hundred deaths could occur in Israel should Iran retaliate and fire rockets into Israel.

It's for good reason that leading Israeli secret service experts, intellectuals and journalists have been warning for weeks, months even, about the consequences and impact of unilateral action on the part of the Israeli government against Iran. A vast swathe of the Israeli population has been living in a state of almost sheer panic regarding the war plans of team Netanyahu-Barak since late last fall - since the national press in Israel started to seriously debate the Iran issue. An Israeli couple even started an Internet campaign recently, aimed at Iranian citizens and distancing themselves from the war rhetoric of the government in Jerusalem.

Questions that need to be asked

The nuclear armament of Israel itself should also be addressed in such debates. Why should Israel be the only state in the Middle East to be exempt from critical examination? And why does Jerusalem implicitly assume the very rights it denies its neighboring countries?

Certainly, Germany should discuss what an Israeli strike could mean itself. Chancellor Angela Merkel has made Berlin's responsibility for the security of Israel explicitly clear. Should Germany support a war against Iran, or rather the other way around, warn Israel against military action? And is it also important that the German government infringe upon the War Weapons Control Act and deliver submarines to Israel that could be armed with atomic warheads?

All of these are questions that need to be asked. Maybe the only credit worthy aspect of Günter Grass' unsuccessful poem will be to have started such a debate. Unfortunately it is more likely that the outrage provoked by his intervention will render every necessary, rational examination of the issue entirely impossible.

Author: Bettina Marx / hw
Editor: Kate Bowen

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