German writer and Nobel Prize-winner Günter Grass has published a poem about Israeli-Iranian relations. He accuses Israel of endangering world peace - and has sparked a wave of criticism.
It doesn't often happen that a lyric work penned by a German poet makes its way into the international press. But 84-year-old Nobel Prize-winner Günter Grass has managed just that.
The poem he titled "What must be said" and published in Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung, Italy's La Repubblica and US paper The New York Times is a political statement that is stirring up heated debate.
Grass' poem focuses on the tense situation between Iran and Israel and the threat of war between the two countries. His harsh criticism of Israel is only loosely clothed in the robe of a lyric text. Grass wrote that Israel is claiming the right to a nuclear first strike with the aim of "eliminating the Iranian people."
In Iran, the poet added, nuclear weapons are only an unconfirmed suspicion. "Why am I just now, aged and with the last ink, saying that the nuclear power Israel is endangering the already fragile world peace?" asks Grass.
Grass continued by saying that Israel rejects efforts to keep its nuclear potential in check - something the world does not talk about, an "incriminating lie" that he says he no longer wants to submit himself to.
Now, when Germany is to "deliver another submarine to Israel," Grass wrote, "I no longer keep silent, because I'm disgusted with the hypocrisy of the West."
The author stated with disapproval that criticism of Israel is often seen as anti-Semitism. He wrote of Germany's past and the crimes that were committed during the Second World War as a blemish that makes it difficult to mention certain truths. At the same time, Grass expressed his solidarity with Israel.
Grass taken to task
These theses presented as poems were bound to draw reactions, most of which have been critical. Publicist Henryk M. Broder, the first to respond in a newspaper article, called Grass an anti-Semite: "Grass has always had a problem with Jews, but he had never articulated it as clearly as in this 'poem.'"
The writer is "completely off the wall," added Broder.
"It's not a coincidental poem, but consciously staged and placed in the media," Julius Schoeps, a historian and the director of the Moses Mendelssohn Center in Potsdam, told Deutsche Welle. He accused Grass of one-sidedness, adding that he finds the author's allegations against Israel inacceptable.
Ralph Giordano, a publicist and author, called the text an "attack on Israel's very existence." Frankfurt-based professor Micha Brumlik said it was sad that a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature should misuse his art to publish "a rather dumb agitprop poem."
Distancing in the political arena
Politicians in Germany have also responded with alarm. Secretary General of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Hermann Gröhe, said he was appalled by the tone and orientation of the poem.
Grass was a great writer, commented CDU chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ruprecht Polenz, but in this case he was turning the situation on its head. The one-sided accusations against Israel were wrong, he added, since Iran was actually the cause of more concern.
In response to the poem, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin spoke of anti-Semitic prejudices, adding that Israel was the only country in the world whose right to exist was publically questioned.
The Italian press has referred to the poem as a "confused whirr." Others, however, have expressed their agreement with Grass. Johano Strasser, president of the German PEN-Center, also warned against German weapons exports to Israel, whose government was giving the impression that a war with Iran was unavoidable.
Günter Grass: What must be said
Why have I been silent, silent for so long?,
Our generals have gamed it out,
Confident the west will survive.
We people have not even been considered.
What is this right to “preventive war”?
A war that could erase the Iranian people.
Dominated by it’s neighbor, pulsing with righteousness
Smug in the fact that it is they, not Iran,
Who have the Bomb.
Why have I so far avoided to identify Israel by it’s name?,
Israel and it’s ever increasing nuclear arsenal,
Beyond reproach, Uncontrolled, uninspected.
We all know these things
Yet we all remain silent, fearful of being labeled:
Considering Germany’s past these labels stick
So we call is “business”, “reparation” take your pick,
As we deliver yet another submarine.
As we provide to Israel the means to deliver annihilation.
I say what must be said.
Why did I stay silent until now?
Because I’m German, of course.
I’m tainted by a stain I cannot wash out
I’m silent because I want so badly to make it right
To put my sins in the past and leave them silently there.
Why did I wait to say it until now?
And write these words with the last of my ink?
Declaring that Israel threatens world peace?
Because it is true and it must be said,
Tomorrow will be too late.
We Germans now carry a new burden of sin on our shoulders
Through the weapons we have sold
We are helping to carry out this foreseeable tragedy
No excuse will remove our stain of complicity.
It must be said. I won’t be silent
I’ve had enough of the hypocrisy;
Please shed the silence with me,
The consequences are all too predictable.
It’s time to demand free and permanent control
of BOTH Israel’s nuclear arsenal
AND Iran’s nuclear facilities
enforced with international supervision.
It’s the only way, in a land convulsed with insanity,
Israelis, Palestinians, everybody, will survive.
And we too, will survive.