I could hardly believe my eyes as I read the story in the Times today about Gunter Grass' recently published poem. The poem has provoked anger and outrage in Germany and other parts of Europe and in Israel!
What? People are up in arms about a poem? Who gets so emotional about a poem? Who pays attention to poetry anyway? Well, apparently when it is a poem by Gunter Grass and it concerns Israel, a lot of people do.
This is not just any poem about moon and June, flowers and puppy dogs. In this poem, Grass expresses the opinion that the main threat to peace in the Middle East today is Israel. He alludes to Israel's nuclear arsenal - the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons - and to its saber-rattling approach to relations with Iran. This plus its continuing refusal to make any accommodations to the Palestinian people, Grass opines, is enough to make the militaristic state a time-bomb waiting to explode and engulf the Middle East in flames.
The title of the poem is "What Must Be Said." Grass has indicated that he hesitated to put his thoughts on paper because he knows he will be accused of anti-Semitism, but he is 84 years old and he writes, “Why do I say only now, aged and with my last drop of ink, that the nuclear power Israel endangers an already fragile world peace? Because that must be said which may already be too late to say tomorrow.”
In today's world, anyone who criticizes Israel in any context can count on being branded an anti-Semite, regardless of the truth of the matter. But why should Israel be immune from criticism? Within the state itself, there are plenty of Israelis, although maybe not enough, who are willing to criticize the actions of their government. In this country though, and apparently in European countries as well, no breath of criticism is allowed. A politician here would sign his own political death warrant by being seen as being less than 100% in Israel's corner, regardless of the issue.
I have complained in this space before about American politicians being in thrall to Israel and being unwilling to separate this country's foreign policy from Israel's. I think it is a huge mistake. Our interests do not always converge and, when they don't, we should be willing to say so forthrightly and without hesitation. Regardless of what the right-wing would have us believe, this is not a religious issue and we are not instructed by the Bible to always support Israel in any misadventure they may choose to undertake. This is a political issue, a foreign policy issue, and our aim must always be to pursue goals that are advantageous to our own country. In general, that will mean that we pursue peace in the Middle East and elsewhere.
As things stand today, I actually think Gunter Grass was about right in his assessment. Israel is a serious threat to peace in the Middle East and the world, and it needs to be acknowledged.