What Must Be Said
Grass has consistently spoken out against the humiliation and degradation of the Palestinian people. In an interview with the German newspaper Spiegel Online in 2001, he described the “appropriation” of Palestinian territory by Israeli settlers as a “criminal activity.” He decaled that this “not only needs to be stopped—it also needs to be reversed.”
Grass wrote a poem titled Was gesagt werden muss (What Must Be Said), which was published in Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung on 4 April, 2012, and later republished in other newspapers. The poem focuses on Israel’s nuclear weapons—a tabooed subject in the West—and its threat to launch a preemptive strike at Iran’s nuclear facility, and argues that Israel’s stockpile of nuclear power poses an ominous threat not only to Iran but the entire world and that the Israeli attack on Iran could “annihilate the Iranian people”. The poem says: “Why do I speak out now/Aged and with my last drop of ink:/Israel’s nuclear power is endangering/Our already fragile world peace.” Grass lashes out against the hypocrisy of the West in putting all kinds of pressure on Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons but turning a blind eye to Israel’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. He hopes that the poem will prompt others to “liberate themselves from the silence “about Israel’s nuclear weapons. Grass also calls for “unhindered and permanent monitoring of Israel’s nuclear facility and Iran’s nuclear facility through an international body. He reproaches Germany for overlooking Israel’s blind spots and urges it to desist from delivering nuclear submarines to Israel that might carry “all-destroying warheads.” Grass also criticizes the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying that the Iranian people are being “enslaved by a“loud-mouth.” Grass says that all this must be said because “tomorrow might be too late.”
The full text of the poem is as follows.
What Must Be Said
Why have I kept silent, held back so long,
on something openly practiced in
war games, at the end of which those of us
who survive will at best be footnotes?
It's the alleged right to a first strike
that could destroy an Iranian people
subjugated by a loudmouth
and gathered in organized rallies,
because an atom bomb may be being
developed within his arc of power.
Yet why do I hesitate to name
that other land in which
for years—although kept secret—
a growing nuclear power has existed
beyond supervision or verification,
subject to no inspection of any kind?
This general silence on the facts,
before which my own silence has bowed,
seems to me a troubling lie, and compels
me toward a likely punishment
the moment it's flouted:
the verdict "Anti-semitism" falls easily.
But now that my own country,
brought in time after time
for questioning about its own crimes,
profound and beyond compare,
is said to be the departure point,
(on what is merely business,
though easily declared an act of reparation)
for yet another submarine equipped
to transport nuclear warheads
to Israel, where not a single atom bomb
has yet been proved to exist, with fear alone
the only evidence, I'll say what must be said.
But why have I kept silent till now?
Because I thought my own origins,
Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,
meant I could not expect Israel, a land
to which I am, and always will be, attached,
to accept this open declaration of the truth.
Why only now, grown old,
and with what ink remains, do I say:
Israel's atomic power endangers
an already fragile world peace?
Because what must be said
may be too late tomorrow;
and because—burdened enough as Germans—
we may be providing material for a crime
that is foreseeable, so that our complicity
will not be expunged by any
of the usual excuses.
And granted: I've broken my silence
because I'm sick of the West's hypocrisy;
and I hope too that many may be freed
from their silence, may demand
that those responsible for the open danger
we face renounce the use of force,
may insist that the governments of
both Iran and Israel allow an international authority
free and open inspection of
the nuclear potential and capability of both.
No other course offers help
to Israelis and Palestinians alike,
to all those living side by side in enmity
in this region occupied by illusions,
and ultimately, to all of us.
(Translated by Breon Mitchell)
The Sound and Fury
The publication of the poem created a wild uproar in Germany and Israel. The Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu thundered: “Gunter Grass’s shameful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran….says little about Israel and much about Mr. Grass.” He added, predictably, “It is Iran, not Israel, that is a threat to the peace and security of the world.” The Israeli interior minister, Eli Yishai, declared Grass persona non grata, and said that he is not allowed to enter Israel. The Jewish writer Henryk Broder dubbed Grass as “the prototype of the educated anti-Semite,” adding that Grass was “completely nuts.”
On the other hand, there has been considerable support for Grass from independent scholars, intellectuals (including those of Jewish origin), human rights groups and Internet forums. Klaus Staeck, the president of the Berlin Academy of Art, said that the condemnation of Grass as an anti-Semite was inappropriate because Grass was merely expressing his concern about developments in the Middle East. “A lot of people share this worry,” he added. Gideon Levy, a journalist with the prominent Israeli newspaper Haaretz, said that Grass has raised an important issue, and added, “They (people like Grass) are not anti-Semites, they are expressing the opinion of many people. Instead of accusing them we should consider what we did that led them to express it.” Peace activists in Germany and in the rest of Europe have defended Grass, saying that he has done the right thing by bringing the subject of Israel’s nuclear weapons and its threat to strike at Iran’s nuclear facility—which is against international law—into the domain of public discourse. “His voice carries significant weight here,” said Manfred Stenner, director of the German Peace Network in Bonn.
Grass seems to have struck a nerve with the wider public in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, judging by the growing support extended to him by Web forums and Facebook groups.
It is instructive to delve deeper into the controversy. To dub Grass as an anti-Semite is not entirely surprising. The accusation and labeling of those who are even mildly critical of the Israeli state and government as anti-Semitic has been a general, skillfully crafted and effective device. Terms like anti-Semitism and the refrain of the Holocaust and victimhood of Jews are regularly invoked by the Israeli leadership, their supporters and Zionists to garner sympathy and support for Israel and to conceal its blind spots. Noam Chomsky, the renowned Jewish-born scholar and public intellectual, who has often criticized the Israeli government for its repressive policies and its gross violation of the rights of the Palestinian people, has been dubbed as anti-Jewish and anti-Israel. He was banned from crossing the border into Israel from Jordan two years ago. In October 2010, Israel expelled Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire after detaining her for a week. She had travelled to Israel to meet Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.
Grass’s poem and the controversy it stirred have a characteristic ring in the context of Germany. Burdened by the horrendous legacy of the Holocaust and the guilt associated with it, the political and intellectual elite in Germany—of both the right and left--often see support for Israel as a moral responsibility. In Germany, as well as in several Western countries, the denial of the Holocaust constitutes a punishable offence. During the past few decades, Israel has considered Germany, in addition to the US, as a true and trust-worthy friend and ally. During the 2008 visit to Jerusalem, Chancellor Angela Merkel had said that Israel’s security was one of Germany’s main concerns. In 2011, Germany voted against a proposal, along with the US and Canada, for the Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. Germany has been a regular supplier of weapons to Israel. It has already supplied Israel with three Dolphin submarines, with two more being built and a sixth in the pipeline. It is a taboo in Germany to speak or write about Israel’s nuclear weapons.
There is an evident disconnect between Germany’s blind support for Israel, as espoused by the political and intellectual elite, and the views of the German public. A poll in January 2009 showed that nearly half of respondents in the country said they saw Israel as an “aggressive country.” Nearly 60 per cent of respondents said they felt Germany had no special responsibility towards Israel, and only about a third of respondents said they felt Germany had a special responsibility towards Israel. The figure representing those who had a negative view about Germany’s relationship with Israel was much higher among young Germans. According to a recent poll, 84 per cent of Germans support Palestinian statehood and 76 per cent believed that Germany should act to recognize it.
The outrage against Grass’s poem has been fuelled and heightened by the Israeli lobby. Though most people have heard about the Jewish or Israeli lobby in the US and in Israel, the incredible reach and penetration of its global networks and its linkage with Israeli intelligence are shrouded in secrecy. The “Israeli lobby” has a significant presence in the major segments of liberal opinion in the US and Europe, in US politics, in American and international media and in the leadership of the labour unions, and has deeply-entrenched linkages with evangelical Christians and other fundamentalist Christian groups in the US. According to a CIA study, within Jewish communities in almost every country of the world, there are Zionists and other sympathizers, who “render strong support to the Israeli intelligence effort.” Such contracts are carefully nurtured and serve as channels for information, deception material, propaganda and other purposes.
International media has played an important role in projecting and disseminating the outpouring of condemnation for Grass’s poem. It is instructive to note that international media, the publishing industry and entertainment in the US are dominated by Jewish companies. Six Jewish companies own or control nearly 90 per cent of the global media network. These include Time Warner, whose publishing division is the largest magazine publisher in the US, which brings out Time, Sports Illustrated, People and Fortune, Walt Disney, Viacom Inc and Rupert Murdock’s News Corporation. Highly influential and widely circulated newspapers like The New York Times (and its international edition, International Herald Tribune), the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post are in Jewish hands. The Washington Post has a number of other media holdings and brings out Time (with a circulation of 4.1 million), Newsweek (with a circulation of 1.5 million), and Wall Street Journal (with a circulation of 2.1 million). Three of the six largest book publishers in the US are owned or controlled by Jews. The production and distribution of Hollywood films and videos has been dominated by Jewish companies. Germany’s Axel Springer is one of the largest multimedia companies in Europe, having more than 230 newspapers and magazines in 33 countries. Its flagship tabloid Bild is the largest-circulations newspaper in Europe with a daily readership of 12 million. Axel Springer is openly biased in favour of Israel.
Israel’s Nuclear Weapons Programme
The story of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme is surrounded by a great deal of deception, calculated ambiguity and intrigue. Israel began building a nuclear reactor, with French support, in the 1950s. In the 1960s Britain made hundreds of secret shipments of restricted materials--which could be used for reprocessing uranium and fuel hydrogen bombs—to Israel. Full-scale production of nuclear weapons began shortly after the Six Day War in 1967. A 1967 CIA report revealed that Israel had the material to make a nuclear bomb in six to eight weeks. On 5 October 1986, the London-based Sunday Time published a sensational story about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme, provided by Mordechai Vanunu, who was formerly employed at the Negev Nuclear Research Centre near Dimona. Vanunu revealed that between 1980 and 1986 Israel attained the capability to build thermonuclear weapons. Shortly after the interview, Vanunu was kidnapped by the Mossad in Rome and brought back to Israel, where he was sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges of treason and espionage.
The declassification of a large number of highly classified US government documents show that the US was convinced as early as in 1975 that Israel had nuclear weapons. In May 2008, former US president Jimmy Carter stated that Israel had 150 or more nuclear weapons. In 2010 The Guardian published some South African government documents that confirmed the existence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Mohamed ElBaradei, former Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed that Israel had nuclear weapons. There is overwhelming evidence which shows that Israel has been a nuclear weapons power for more than four decades. It is estimated that Israel’s nuclear arsenal includes between 75 and 300 nuclear warheads. Israel has maintained a policy of “nuclear ambiguity.” It neither admits nor denies that it possesses nuclear weapons, and has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would oblige it to open its nuclear facility to international inspection, despite international pressure to do so. There is a secret agreement between Israel and the US to shield Israel’s weapons programme from international scrutiny.
Israel has employed all possible means, including assassinations and bombing strikes, in defiance of international law, in order to prevent other countries in the Middle East from developing a nuclear programme. It bombed Syria’s nuclear facility and destroyed the reactor. In 1981 Israel bombed and destroyed the Osirak reactor in Iraq. Shortly after the bombing, the Osirak site was inspected by a prominent nuclear physicist, Richard Wilson, then chair of the physics department at Harvard University. He concluded that the installation bombed by Israel was not suited for plutonium production, contrary to the claim made by Israel.
On the other hand, it seems extremely unlikely that Iran has developed nuclear weapons. American intelligence officials believe that Iran halted its programme to develop nuclear weapons back in 2003. Hans Blix, former Head of International Atomic Energy Agency, said in December 2011 that Iran had not developed nuclear weapons. He added that there are ominous similarities between the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, prior to the American-led invasion of the country, and the current focus on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Grass has echoed what has been said by several human rights activists, including those of Jewish background. The Israeli human rights activist Gideon Spiro, for example, has said that Israel should be subjected to the same rules that apply to Iran and all other countries in the Middle East. “Rein in Israel, compel it to accept a regime of nuclear disarmament and oblige it to open all nuclear, biological and chemical facilities and missile sites to international inspection,” he says.