Gunter Grass is right and, of course, he is not an anti-Semite. If he is, it is certainly not his most recent literary endeavour (here you can find the atrocious translation of his poem ‘What must be said’) that makes such a fact explicit. Rather, the bizarre paroxysm of the German press, political cadres and public figures shows how frighteningly effective has been the Israeli machine in forcing just about everybody to buy the politically perverse conflation of judaism and zionism.
But, not everyone who dislikes something Jewish despises all things Jewish and—normally needless to say, though not at this hour—not every dislike of one or other thing Jewish is irrational, murderous, unjustifiable or evil. I want to believe that hating my grandmother’s Borscht was not a way to pave the road to the camps.
To declare, with happy indignation, Grass’ poem an expression of anti-Semitism, is to banalize antisemitism. And while these things are to be expected from the Israeli machine that has spent 60 years attempting to convince the world that any criticism of the policies of the–self-declared–Jewish State instantaneously converts you into a nazi, it is unforgivable from the German press which should know better. Hysterical philosemitism is just as dangerous as hysterical anti-Semitism and both are misdirected.
One can expect Netanyahu to gorge on anti-Semitism. As other professional victims of ancestral injustice, irrational and murderous hatred is one off his only raisons d’etre. Without the permanent shadow of a genocidal threat he would be collecting unemployment benefits in the City Hall of Hebron. It is not surprising at all that he insists in declaring everything–including many jews who dislike his politics and his friends–j a good excuse for his own political existence. So when he says that Grass is attempting to deny the ‘one and only Jewish state’ the tools to defend itself form impending extermination (unsurprisingly coming from a Nazi, he seems to claim) Netanyahu is simply working on his habitual line of political chicanery which is essentially the demand of silence that Grass is precisely resisting. The desire to see Netanyahu and his tribe of brutes follow Sharon into a deep and irreversible coma does not amount to the desire to negate the existence or express the hope for the destruction of the state of Israel. So to let these groups bully everyone into silence is precisely what Grass’ poem may have adressed from the capital of Europe and this was long overdue.
So let me make the point very clear. Judaism is not reducible to Zionism and Jews like myself standing deep in the tradition of enlightned progressivism that first took hold in this very country–Germany–recognize a duty and commitment to ideas of justice, fairness and equality which are at times antithetical to the type of loyalty demanded by a nation state. In the case of Israel, they often stand in direct opposition. No Jew who is aware of the social and cultural inheritance of Judaism’s long dance in and out of chains, no jew who sits tonight for passover and demands that ‘every man in each generation should see himself’ as if he had suffered and been himself liberated from Egypt, can sit silently and comfortably in light of Deir Yassin, Sabra and Shatila, Cast Lead or Netanyahu’s impending adventure in Iran. The death of children, the destruction of property, the development of an apartheid state are inexcusable and staying silent in the face of such injustice is not merely a troubling lie–as Grass claims–but an act of complicity with oppression and injustice.
Making claims like this one has brought a curious charge against me. Zionists like to call me—lo and behold—an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew. It’s important to point out that whenever I have hated a Jew has invariably been someone else and never myself, and not once—at least that I can remember—for being a Jew. In this brave new world, the only people against whom I ever had to give political justifications and excuses for my judaism are zionists. In fact, I have come to understand, that the type of silence that is now being demanded form Grass by people like Michael Friedmann and that repeatedly was asked of other Jews like myself is essentially a call to abandon my Judaism for the sake of tribal loyalties and this, I will not do nor should anyone with a political conscience and a modicum of common decency.
So simply put, Grass is right. He is right about many things but most of all about the fact that our voices should find each other’s so as to be willing to say what everybody already knows but has been cowered from saying by rumors and allegations of anti-Semitism. Not in the guise of novelty or sudden political illumination–as Tom Segev stupidly seems to believe–but rather to give each other courage to speak when the Israeli machine is determined to dismiss us as criminals and monsters, all of us inheritors of Auschwitz. In calling for Israel to be accountable and demanding justice, Grass speaks with my voice, the voice of a Jew and, indeed, if the words of Grass manage to do anything to stop the Likud’s march to war in Iran, then he will have saved more than a life, which according to the Jewish tradition, is to save the entire world.
- Gunter Grass is Right. (theradicalsecularist.com)
- TRS Interviews Ilan Pappe (theradicalsecularist.com)
- The Two Judaisms, Nationalists and Emancipatory Universalists (theradicalsecularist.com)
- Argumentum ad Hitlerum (theradicalsecularist.com)
- What is a Jewish State? (theradicalsecularist.com)