What on earth do Gunter Grass and Ido Kozikaro have in common?
An elderly, Nobel Prize-winning German author and an Israeli basketball player were both accused of racism this week for their provocative acts.
What on earth can Gunter Grass and Ido Kozikaro have in common? What thread can possibly connect the elderly, Nobel Prize-winning German author and the player from the Hapoel Gilboa-Galil basketball team?
It is doubtful whether the two are aware of each other's output, but this week they found themselves sitting on the same bench in the Israeli tribunal where the accused are tried for racism.
Grass wrote a poem (a rather weak one, to tell the truth ) that puts the blame on Israel for the nuclear crisis in the Middle East, while Kozikaro posted a Facebook page status on the eve of Passover, saying: "There is nothing better than beginning the holiday with matzot dipped in the blood of Christian and Muslim children."
Both of them tried to attract attention through a provocative act. The 84-year-old German writer wanted to place himself in the spotlight through contemporary lyrical aggression before he is forgotten somewhere in the depths of a cursed old age. The young basketball player wanted his friends to think what he wrote was funny.
The Israeli street was jumping. The media hastened to attach the poem to Grass' past as a young draftee in the Waffen SS; analysts wrote exaggerated accounts about Grass' supposedly anti-Semitic past in particular and about that of Germans in general. The cherry on top was Interior Minister Eli Yishai's decision to ban the writer from entering Israel.
Kozikaro, whose wisecrack was supposed to titillate a much more restricted audience, found himself being interrogated at the police station under caution. MK Mohammed Barakeh said later that "this act broke all the barriers of racism in Israel. The commander of the police must immediately arrest all the neo-Nazis who are active in Israel because a person who speaks in this fashion will very soon act on his words."
This is an instance where the Talmudic proverb "Haposel bemumo posel" - equivalent to "the pot calling the kettle black" - sums up the situation most aptly. The unbridled assault on Grass, who merely thinks somewhat differently from us, and the hasty use of the term "neo-Nazi" for Kozikaro's tasteless joke (for which he promptly apologized ), show that an insulted public can be no less dangerous, maybe even more so, than those who insult.
The ease with which the Holocaust is pulled out every time something disturbs the elected leadership or "the masses of Israelis" is a greater reason for concern than Grass' disparaging poem or Kozikaro's stupid joke. Neither Grass nor Kozikaro was the pied piper who led the crowd in the dance of racism and aggressiveness that emerged last week. It was rather those who desecrate and cheapen the memory of Holocaust victims by their inability to refrain from criticism without hesitating to use one of the most murderous events in human history - those who have no compunction about employing the most emotional images from history to arouse nationalistic feelings and make political and promotional capital out of them.
Before the Germans' DNA is mapped (after all, all Germans must think exactly like Grass ) and before Kozikaro is called a neo-Nazi, it is worth pausing for a moment. People who genuinely wish to get rid of ethnic/racial abuse cannot use it themselves as part of their campaign. People opposed to "the attempt to fan the flames of hatred against the State of Israel and the people of Israel," as in Grass' case, or the "breaking all the barriers of Israeli racism," as in Kozikaro's, must pay attention to what their own language conveys. It is not always an improvement.