The Chutzpah Of It All

What kind of democracy bans a poet for penning verse critical of that democracy’s plans to attack another country that technically poses no threat to said democracy? Oh yeah, the only one in the Middle East.

As the BBC reported:

“Israel has declared the German author Guenter Grass ‘persona non grata’ and barred him from entering the country.

Grass, a Nobel laureate, recently criticised Israel in a poem.

In it, Grass condemned German arms sales to Israel, and said the Jewish state must not be allowed to launch military strikes against Iran.

Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai says Grass is not welcome because he has tried ‘to inflame hatred against the State and people of Israel.’

Yishai, the leader of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party in Israel’s coalition government, suggested that Grass should go to Iran, ‘where he would find a sympathetic audience should he want to continue disseminating his warped and mendacious work.'”

The controversial poem, called “What Must be Said,” is more commentary than poetry (which shows how much I know about poetry) about the perils of Israel attacking Iran over the latter’s alleged nuclear weapons program. It doesn’t call for wiping Israel off the map, nor does it contain anything hateful towards Jewish people – remarkable for someone who once served in the Waffen SS during WWII. Instead, it’s a work filled with anguish over Israel’s threatened attack on Iran from the perspective of a German struggling to voice his observation under the burden of history and manipulation of that history to suit Israeli interests:

“The general silence about these facts, which my silence has been subordinated to, feels like an incriminating lie and constraint, which promises penalty as soon as revealed; the common verdict: ‘anti-Semitism’.

But now, because originating from my country, which is time after time caught-up, and obliged to justify itself, for it’s very own and unprecedented crimes , now again on a pure commercial basis, even though declared with fast tounge as reparation, another submarine shall be delivered to Israel, with the specialty of delivering annihilating warheads to where the existence of one single nuclear bomb is unproven, but used as a scarecrow of fear of evidence, I say what must be said.”

Grass sees a crime unfolding with German complicity; rather than using history to learn lessons, it’s used instead to justify aiding Israel’s own crimes:

“Why do I only say now, aged and with last ink: The nuclear power Israel threatens the already brittle world peace? Because it must be said, what tomorrow could already be too late; also because we – as Germans already heavily cumbered – could become suppliers to a predictable crime, and none of the usual excuses could erase our complicity this time.”

Lastly, the work is from the perspective of an artist who admires Israel and is concerned not only about the impact of an Israeli airstrike on relations between Israel and the Palestinians, but the impact such an attack will have on the rest of the world:

“Only this way, Israelis, Palestinians, and even more everybody who is living face to face as enemies in this region occupied by delusion and craziness, and last not least ourselves, can be helped.”

This is the man Israel has banned from its borders – for expressing his opinion. The question naturally is, why now? What took Israel six years after Grass confessed his Nazi past to bar him entry? Ofer Aderet asked this same question in the pages of Ha’aretz:

“To sum it up, if Israel wanted too, it could have forbidden Grass from entering the country years ago. Yishai’s declaration simply smacks of populism.”

Perhaps, but the real issue goes beyond political opportunism; the real issue is not only whether a so-called democracy like Israel can bar those from entry who dare to oppose in any form their immoral polices, but whether Israelis even have the right to condemn anyone who once had a Nazi past. The Jewish state was established as a safe haven for Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust, but both pre-state Zionism and Israel – before and after Grass donned an SS uniform – have a history of collaborating and sustaining antisemitic regimes and former Nazi sympathizers.

The assumption that Zionism is an anti-racist movement – insofar as antisemitism is concerned – is part of the official mythology surrounding Israel’s founding and is its ideological rationale, yet far from being an antidote to this prejudice, Zionism has sought accommodation with it as a means of realizing the goal of a Jewish state, in two ways; first, as a way to gain Jewish support for Zionism – if there’s no persecution of Jews, then Jews have no reason to leave their homes and settle in Palestine. Second, collaboration with antisemitic regimes enabled the Zionist movement – both Labor and Revisionist factions – to cut deals for financial gain, population exchange and to act as the official arbiter between the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds … all at the expense of the Jewish people they claim to represent.

The most notorious example of this was the Ha’avara Agreement in 1933, where mainstream Zionism undercut the international anti-Nazi boycott in exchange for 60,000 German Jews and their assets, even setting up trade between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine – an arrangement that allowed the Nazi regime to survive.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Since Israel’s creation, Tel Aviv has continued this policy of partnership with antisemitic regimes. One such example was the Argentine military dictatorship, infamous for its “dirty war” that claimed 30,000 lives, including thousands of Jews. According to the Guardian:

Nazi ideology permeated the military and security forces during the country’s dictatorship. Recordings of Hitler’s speeches were played during torture sessions.

‘I remember when I was arrested in 1977 there was a giant swastika painted on the wall at the federal police central headquarters where I was interrogated,’ said Robert Cox, the British former editor of the English-language Buenos Aires Herald.

The Argentine rabbi Daniel Goldman, who was expected to fly to Madrid this week to testify before Mr Garzán, hopes the report will help the Jewish community come to terms with the dictatorship. ‘While it cannot be said there was an open plan for the elimination of Jews, there cannot be any doubt now that captured Jews were singled out for special punishment,’ he said.

Some generals were obsessed with the ‘Jewish question’, including the chief of the Buenos Aires police, General Ramon Camps. He arrested Jacobo Timerman, the editor of the daily newspaper La Opinion. After months of torture Mr Timerman was stripped of his citizenship and expelled – his life saved only by diplomatic pressure from the US government.”

The anti-Jewish sentiment in the junta was so apparent that two international Jewish groups were requesting help from the Brazilian and American governments in case of mass evacuation. While this was going on, the Jewish state carried on with business as usual, selling arms to Buenos Aires, maintaining relations with the regime and otherwise doing nothing to help.

Frederick H. Gareau wrote in his 2004 book, State Terrorism and the United States, that even as Washington reduced its aid during the dirty war, its allies continued to sell arms to the junta worth billions:

“‘Notable among the suppliers was Israel. Argentina became Israel’s largest South American customer, accounting for over 30 percent of Israeli weapons,’ he wrote. ‘Given a choice between immorality and business, Israel chose the latter. Not only was this reprehensible, it’s also typical; through out its history, Israel has collaborated with many anti-Semitic and Nazi-inspired governments and organizations to serve its political and economic needs.'”

Even the Israelis are aware of this betrayal. Then-MK Yossi Sarid of the left-leaning Meretz party confirmed this relationship back in 2003:

The Knesset yesterday unanimously approved a decision demanding that Argentina extradite to Israel those Argentina colonels and generals involved in mass killings during the country’s military dictatorship from 1976-1983 so that they can be put on trial. Just 19 MKs were present for the debate.

MK Yossi Sarid (Meretz) proposed the move, saying that it was a ‘hypocritical discussion since all the facts have long been known and the government of Israel never once lifted a finger and cooperated with the Argentine murders because of their interest in arms deals.'”

Also in the 1970s, the Jewish state’s collaboration with Apartheid South Africa, which began in 1976 during the administration of B.J. Vorster. Vorster was a Nazi sympathizer; he and the head of the infamous Bureau Of Security Services Hendrik van den Bergh were members of the pro-Nazi Ossewa Brandwag during WWII. Despite this – and the regime’s white supremacist ideology – the Israelis provided a conduit for corporations to bypass sanctions, sold weapons used to crackdown on anti-Apartheid opposition and even offered to sell and develop Jericho ground to ground missiles to Pretoria – missiles with a nuclear capability.

What could possibly have been the basis for such a relationship? The architect of South African Apartheid H.F. Verwoerd once summed it up this way:

“The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel like South Africa, is an apartheid state.”

Last but not least is Israel’s support of the Lebanese Phalange. The Phalange was founded after Pierre Gemayel attended the 1936 Berlin Olympics and was inspired by the Third Reich. It was (and still is) a fascist organization, yet Israel supported it as far back as the period between 1948-51, according to Gilbert Achcar in his book, Arabs And The Holocaust. This didn’t stop the Jewish state from using the Phalange to pursue its hegemonic designs on Lebanon; they armed, trained and facilitated the Sabra/Shatilla massacre in 1982, where their fascist allies butchered thousands of mainly Muslim Palestinians and Lebanese civilians.

Guenter Grass should have come clean about his SS past sooner and his equating the Holocaust with the fate of German POWs is both unjustified and absurd. But Grass is neither an antisemite nor even right-wing – he has been a prominent supporter of many left-wing causes, evident in his left-leaning literary work for over five decades since WWII. In other words, fascism and the elimination of Jews are not his goal – quite the opposite, in fact.

In this context, Grass’s brief membership in the German military pales in comparison to this systematic policy of collaboration and betrayal of the Jewish people; if a German poet can be banned and publicly castigated for opposing an Israeli attack on Iran, then what appropriate measures should be taken against such a criminal system – one that is guilty of betraying  Jews and the continuing crimes against Palestinians?

Nuremberg-style trials comes to mind; and hopefully, in our lifetime.

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