Gunter Grass and the Mute Left

Grass’ profound moral failure and the Zionist left’s profound failure to respond are a bad sign. They show that leading intellectuals in the West and Israel are no longer capable of defending Israel.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

Gunter Grass has put us all to the test. The strange text he published a week ago in the Suddeutsche Zeitung is a bizarre but profound document. It doesn't contain old-style anti-Semitism. It doesn't contain Goebbels-like propaganda.

But behind its embarrassing lines lie three important statements. In his own way, Grass is saying more or less the following: I'm no longer willing to overcome my disgust with Israel because of my Hitlerian past; I think Israel's nuclear capability is endangering world peace; the fact that my people murdered the Jews in 1942 does not justify the Jews having nuclear weapons in 2012.

Guenter GrassCredit: Reuters

With the sensitive instincts of a great writer, Grass makes a radical statement that reflects a deep-seated idea now spreading in the dark cellars of the new Germany, the new Europe and the new left. According to this deep-seated idea, Israel, not Iran, is the present-day aggressor in the Middle East. Not the extremist Shi'ites but the extremist Israelis are the new Nazis. The crime against humanity that must be at the center of our consciousness is not what Hitler did to the Jews but what the Jews are about to do to the Iranians. Therefore, in the name of the Holocaust, the Jews should be denied the nuclear power that could enable them to cause a second Holocaust.

Grass is the negative of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also draws a direct link between Auschwitz and the nuclear threat. But for the mustachioed German writer, the decisive nuclear threat is embodied in Dimona. With his last drop of ink he enlists the Holocaust not to stop Natanz but to dismantle Dimona. He also demands that Israel be denied the second-strike submarines that according to foreign sources guarantee its existence.

The SS soldier who became a famous humanist is ending his life exactly where he began it. As far as he's concerned, there's no danger in American, Russian, British, French, Chinese, Indian and Pakistani nuclear bombs. Nor is there any real danger in an Iranian nuclear bomb. What really might destroy our world are the nuclear weapons attributed to Israel. The Jews' ability to defend themselves and prevent their destruction is what is keeping the moral guru from Lubeck awake at night.

The Grass challenge is a serious one. It includes an attempt to cancel the affirmative action that the Jewish people have enjoyed since 1945, helping them protect their lives. It includes an attempt to deny Israel the moral safety net on which the strategic safety net relies. This time the attack is not against the occupation and the settlements, but against Dimona. The spearhead of the European left is trying to deny Israel the deterrence on which its security is based.

Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded well, but in the relevant world nobody listens to them. Interior Minister Eli Yishai reacted to Grass violently, and thus seriously damaged Israel diplomatically and morally.

But there was no reaction at all from the Zionist left. No writer delivered a fire and brimstone speech in fluent English. No intellectual published a penetrating article in The New York Times. Meretz and Peace Now remained silent. The preachers who hasten to condemn every hallucinatory rabbi from the settlement of Yitzhar fell silent in the face of the Nobel Prize laureate's horrifying words. While official Germany roundly condemned its leading writer, enlightened Israel lost its tongue. In the Gunter Grass test, Israel's moral left failed dismally.

For now, the storm has ended. But Grass' profound moral failure and the Zionist left's profound failure to respond are a bad sign. They show that the long years of occupation distort people's minds and make them forget key concepts. They show that leading intellectuals in the West and Israel are no longer capable of defending Israel. The words said by Grass and the words not said against Grass prove that the gangrene of delegitimization is gradually spreading and devouring us.



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