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Günter Grass. Copyright: dpa/Bildfunk.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Grass and Israel

Sabine Peschel / jgt
April 14, 2015

Günter Grass was not one to temper public debate or criticism - also not when it came to Israel. Young Israeli authors, it seems, have endured an ambivalent relationship with the eloquent critic.


Three years prior to his death, Günter Grass caused a scandal by criticizing Israel in his poem, "What must be said." He warned that the nuclear-empowered Israel was a danger to world peace. The lyrical work appeared simultaneously in three major international newspapers in April 2012 - in German, Italian and Spanish. The Berlin-based journalist Henryk M. Broder at the time responded that Grass was "the prototype of the educated anti-Semite."

The controversy still simmers, and in the wake of Grass' death the chairman of the Association of Hebrew Language Writers, Herzl Chakak, lamented that the author had "shown no remorse for his harsh anti-Israeli statements" before his death.

Is this sentiment, however, shared by younger Israeli writers? Three such writers have shared their views on the work and opinions of the late Nobel Prize laureate on the evening of his death at a symposium in Berlin.

'No emotional connection'

Grass' Poem What Must Be Said. Copyright: Stephan Jansen dpa/lby.
Explosive: The poem "What must be said"Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Amichai Shalev, born in 1973 in Holon, is a writer, editor and literary critic. He says that Grass' death has no real significance for him.

"I recall that I read his books as a teenager. Later he then revealed that he had been in the SS [a Nazi special unit] as a young man. This changed public opinion in Israel a bit. There aren't very many of his books on the shelves in bookstores. I personally don't connect with him emotionally. However, 'The Tin Drum' - I love this book. I remember a particular scene in which the child Oskar Matzerath is sitting in school and, after the teacher says something, he always beats the drum. I don't know why, but it made an impression on me. I also read another good book of his, 'Crabwalk.' But to tell you the truth, if someone wanted to know how I judge his past, I would say this is something he should have sorted out by himself."

'He was a brave writer'

Yiftach Ashkenazi, born in 1980 in Carmiel, is a writer and literary critic for daily newspaper, "Haaretz," and lives in Jerusalem.

"It's a strange feeling to be here on the day Grass has died. I have read some of his books - 'The Tin Drum' for example and then one of his last books, in which he announced his former membership in the SS [Eds.: in 'Peeling the Onion' in 2006]. He is an extremely interesting and tough writer. I like his work and I actually like his criticism of Israel. His criticism was not so accurate, but I like his attitude - that one can criticize Israel. He was a brave writer."

'Nothing is shocking anymore'

Anat Einhar, born in 1970 in Petach Tikva, writes not only books but is also a renowned illustrator and author of graphic novels. She lives in Tel Aviv.

Writer Anat Einhar. Copyright: Dirk Bleicker.
Writer Anat EinharImage: Dirk Bleicker

"I've read 'The Tin Drum,' and also some other books whose titles I can't recall. In the 80s I saw Schlöndorff's film [version of 'The Tin Drum']. I like his novels. Grass is very well known in Israel and has many readers. Around three weeks ago some of my friends met him in Leipzig. They were so excited that they took some selfies with him.

"When I hear critical comments from outside of Israel, such as that of Grass, I often find them interesting. I take it seriously, but I always think that things appear much more complicated when you live in Israel. I was not upset about what he said - I share many of his views. Also, the people around me are not shocked by such statements. For me, this is no cause for alarm. As an Israeli, one is accustomed to receiving such opinions and statements from all corners of the world. Nothing is shocking about this anymore."

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