Former Nazi Gunter Grass & a ‘liberal’ broadsheet called the Guardian (Analysis of coverage)


As I noted in a previous post, an 84 year old former Waffen SS Nazi named Gunter Grass published a poem falsely accusing Israel of contemplating a nuclear assault on Iran, and therefore a threat to “already fragile” world peace.

I advanced a few arguments in the piece, the most basic of which were these:

That the spectacle of a former Nazi, a German who was complicit with history’s most lethal movement, is about the last person on earth to lecture Jews on morality; that it’s shameful to characterize as “brave” his promotion of the intellectually and morally unserious charge that the Jewish state represents a threat to world peace; and that Germans, if nothing else, have a profound responsibility to guard against the resurgence of Judeophobic discourse within their society.

You’d think even the Guardian would report the story in a manner.

However, they’ve published eight pieces on the row thus far, little of which suggest genuine moral outrage at Grass, and much of which vilify Israel for its’ reaction to the poem.

Here are some highlights:

1. Gunter Grass barred from Israel over poem, April 8, by Harriet Sherwood.

What title and narrative of piece evoke

Israel repressing freedom of expression, unfairly barring someone from entering the state due merely to an offensive poem.

Relevant passages, representative of story’s theme

Some Israeli commentators said Grass had raised an important issue and that criticism of Israeli policies was routinely portrayed as antisemitism.

Writing on the +972 website, Larry Derfner said: “Günter Grass told the truth, he was brave in telling it, he was brave in admitting that he’d been drafted into the Waffen SS as a teenager, and by speaking out against an Israeli attack on Iran, he’s doing this country a great service at some personal cost while most Israelis and American Jews are safely following the herd behind Bibi [Netanyahu] over the cliff.”

Gideon Levy, the Haaretz columnist, wrote that Grass and other critics of Israeli policies were “not anti-Semites, they are expressing the opinions of many people”. “Instead of accusing them, we should consider what we did that led them to express it,” he said.

By ending with two defenses of Grass, which characterize him as more deserving of moral sympathy than Israeli leaders, Sherwood is providing implicit support (or at least, legitimization) for such opinions.  The broader message is that Israel is the guilty party, not Gunter Grass. 

2. Letters: Israel, Gunter Grass and the right to artistic license, April 8

While there were two letters critical of Grass, there were also four strongly defending him and vilifying Israel: by Tim Llewellyn, John Severs, John Severs, Catherine Boswell. 

Tim Llewellyn: Zionist conspiracies, the tragically misunderstood Republic of Iran, and a compliant media that is manipulated into denigrating the great Grass.

“What is so exceptional about Günter Grass’s verse that it should provoke such political and media hysteria? He merely points out what anyone who studies the Middle East knows: that Israel is trying to bounce the United States into war with Iran by wildly exaggerating Iran’s alleged “existential” threat to Israel, regardless of the cataclysmic consequences.

Israel has nuclear weapons; Iran does not. Iran has not seriously threatened Israel: even rhetorically, the textual evidence of any real menace to Israel from Ahmadinejad is overinterpreted and exaggerated. Conversely, Israel is certainly threatening Iran.

Why do our commentators fall such easy prey to the machinations of the Israeli state and its supporters, and denigrate a great and wise writer who, after all, is only trying to give us due warning of a disaster in the making?”

Published by the Guardian: Conspiratorial narrative of a Jewish state so powerful it can goad an unwilling world super power into war with Iran; An incomprehensible lie that Iran has not threatened Israel; and the notion that commentators are manipulated by Zionists into denigrating a great and wise former Nazi.

John Severs: Three cheers, or more, to Gunter Grass!

Three cheers, or more, to Günter Grass for exposing the hypocrisy of Israel’s stance and continuing complaints, with no evidence, about Iran developing nuclear weapon capability. Israel has significant nuclear-warhead capability, and it is constantly threatening to bomb Iran or organise land-based raids, thus creating mayhem across the Middle East. Grass might well have also mentioned the shocking Israeli blockade of Gaza and their illegal appropriation of land and water, and destruction of huge tracts of olive groves and orchards on the West Bank.

I note that, once again, a critic of Israeli policy is branded anti-Jewish. Is it no longer possible to criticise Israel as a nation without being accused of being antisemitic?

The brave Gunter Grass, who speaks truth to power, and says what must be said: Iran is the victim of Israeli aggression, a Jewish state which not only threatens world peace but destroys olive groves as well!  Plus, bonus claim: Poor former Nazis are silenced, and can’t even level hysterical warnings of a Jewish state representing the greatest threat to world peace without being called antisemitic. 

Catherine Boswell: The Mossad targeted my husband for being critical of Israel!

“My late husband, the German poet Erich Fried, was a colleague of Grass. In 1974 Erich published a whole book of poems about the Arab-Israeli conflict entitled Höre Israel, which has been republished recently by Melzer Verlag.

Grass’s admission that he served in the Waffen SS in his teens serves as ready ammunition for the Zionists to use against him; for Erich it was the fact of being a Jew. For taking a critical stance of Israeli policies, he was dubbed an antisemite and even targeted by Mossad for a few years. It amazes me how this shameful – not to say quite illogical – equivalence can be so widely accepted.”

This letter is more proof you can engage in the most bizarre, unhinged, conspiratorial anti Zionist rhetoric and get published in the Guardian.  The notion that the Mossad was targeting her husband for engaging in criticism of Israel is so ludicrous as to be almost a parody.  

3. Gunter Grass and changing German attitudes towards Israel, April 5, by Hans Kundnani

Theme of commentary:

Grass’ poetical attack on Israel is not an isolated view in Germany, and represents increasing German anger at the Jewish state, due to its move right, and Germans’ feeling that they’re not allowed to say what they really think. (Kundnani doesn’t necessarily endorse such German and equivocates by use of words such as “rightly or wrongly” this is what Germans think.)

Key passages:

what makes the publication of the poem significant is that it expresses a sense of anger against Israel that – justified or not – many Germans seem increasingly to share. This anger is partly a response to Israel’s rightward shift during the past decade. But it seems also to be a product of developments in Germany and in particular the way that the Holocaust has receded in significance during the last decade. Increasingly, Germans seem to see themselves as victims rather than perpetrators.

A poll in January 2009 – during the Gaza war – suggested that German attitudes to Israel were in flux. Nearly half of respondents said they saw Israel as an “aggressive country” and only around a third of respondents said they felt Germany had a special responsibility towards Israel. Sixty per cent said Germany had no special responsibility (the figure was even higher among younger Germans and among those living in the former East Germany).

This anger against Israel is exacerbated by the sense some Germans have of not being able to say what they really think – as Grass suggests in the poem. This has created a pent-up resentment towards Israel that could at some point explode.

Last year, Germany voted in favour of a UN resolution demanding a halt to Israeli settlement expansion – an unusual break with Israel. Later in the year, Germany opposed the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN. But according to one poll, 84% of Germans supported Palestinian statehood and 76% believed Germany should act to recognise it – an even higher proportion in each case than in France or the UK.

An Israeli military strike on Iran could create a sudden rupture between Germany and Israel in the way that the Iraq war did between Germany and the US. My sense is that were Israel to launch a military strike on Iran, what remaining sympathy there is in Germany for Israel would evaporate almost overnight.

Again, in addition to the disturbing fact that, evidently, Germans now see themselves as victims, notice that Grass’ victimological conceit (that Germans can’t say what they truly feel about Jews and Israel without opprobrium) is, per the writer, arguably true, and shared by a large percentage of Germans.

4. Hit Gunter Grass with poetry not a travel ban, April 10, by , a blogger at the far left site (and Guardian partner blog) Liberal Conspiracy.

Major Theme: 

Banning Grass from traveling to Israel amounts to state censorship

Relevant passages:

On Sunday, the controversy surrounding Günter Grass’s poem Was Gesagt Werden Muss (What Must Be Said) escalated, with Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai confirming Grass was now considered a persona non grata in Israel, which amounts to a travel ban. This is a form of state censorship against an author, purely because of what he has written, which is wrong and an infringement on free speech.

Agree or disagree with the travel ban, such a restriction has absolutely nothing to do with censorship or free speech, which would be an apt description if, for instance, Grass’ poems were banned in Israel.  Grass is not a citizen of Israel and has no right to be allowed entry. His former role in the Nazi Waffen SS is enough moral justification for keeping him out of the country.

5. Pass notes No 3,156: Günter Grass, April 10 (no author cited)

Finally, the Guardian published a quite whimsical take on the row over the former Nazi’s poem. Here’s a sense of the light-hearted take on the topic: a brief bio of Grass, and a series of short answers to the questions surrounding the row:

Age: 84.

Appearance: Like a potato.

That’s a little unkind: OK, a potato with a pipe.

Occupation: Writer, sage, controversialist.

Most telling passage:

Do read: His early novels The Tin Drum, Cat and Mouse, and Dog Years (the “Danzig trilogy”, named after his birthplace), published in the late 1950s and early 60s.

Don’t read: All his other stuff.

That’s a ridiculous thing to say. Hey, this is Pass Notes, not the LRB. Like the Israeli government, in this case, we specialise in kneejerk reactions and blanket condemnation.

Israel, home to roughly 180,000 Holocaust survivors, is characterized (in the context of their condemnation of Grass’ poem) as a country specializing in “knee-jerk reactions and blanket condemnations”!

Overall conclusion of Guardian’s coverage: Main points.

  • Exceedingly more criticism of Israel’s reaction to Grass’ poem than of the former Nazi’s atrocious vilification of Israel.
  • No commentary on the antisemitic undertones of Grass’ characterization of the Jewish state as the biggest threat to world peace.
  • A paltry amount of outrage at Grass, and the fact that he hid his Nazi past for sixty years while assuming the role of moral “conscience” of Germany.
  • Israel’s travel ban on Grass characterized as “censorship” and a threat to free speech.
  • Publishing (editorial sanctioning) of letters not only supporting Grass, but containing thinly veiled antisemitic and anti Zionist conspiracy theories.

You’d think that, as a paper which fancies itself a liberal voice, the Guardian would be cautious in defending a former Nazi (who hid his role as a member of a Nazi unit, singled out by the Nuremberg Trials for engaging in crimes against humanity, for sixty years) who engaged in a scurrilous attack on the Jewish state – a moral inversion which juxtaposed Iranian “loudmouths” with sinister Israelis contemplating genocide.

Finally, the coverage of the incident again demonstrates that, for the Guardian, criticizing Israel provides impunity to even the most morally compromised commentators.  

49 comments on “Former Nazi Gunter Grass & a ‘liberal’ broadsheet called the Guardian (Analysis of coverage)

  1. It could indeed be argued that Israel constitutes a threat to world peace – but only in the sense that Islamists and assorted other intolerant fuckwits will continue their war on the world as long as Israel exists. In case Grass hadn’t noticed – there is currently no “world peace” thanks to these lunatics.

    But as for him being barred from Israel – surely the Israeli government at the time noted the revelation of his SS past? Why this move now?

    • “Why this move now?” Possibly to make a statement about Grass not just being a former Nazi, but an apparently unrepentant one, still buying into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and in so doing getting himself, his former comrades and his country “off the hook”, so zu sagen (or so to speak, for those of you who don’t speak the Sprache). Israeli leaders see the Iranian threat, quite correctly, as an existential one, and by Grass turning it around like a Guardianista, represents the same mindset manifested by Holocaust deniers.
      There are honest differing points of view about what Israel should do about the threats coming in loud and clear from the Iranian Islamic theocracy among pro-zionists (and I’m not talking about those who mime being pro-zionist), but Grass’ critique is completely out of bounds, and trivializes the jewish experience.

      • but an apparently unrepentant one, still buying into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories … represents the same mindset manifested by Holocaust deniers

        This is just nonsense. Show me the “anti-Semitic conspiracy theories” Grass supports.

      • Why now?
        It is the time of the Easter marches in Germany which began in Great Britain in the fifties and were sucessfully transferred to Germany, against nuclear weapons.
        The organisers already congratulated Grass.

  2. http://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article106169394/Grass-schreibt-was-die-deutsche-Mehrheit-denkt.html

    The German coming out?
    In Germany and Austria a lot in in media, art and politics tries to minimise it as a foolish act, but in reality it is hate inciting against Jews.
    Some apologists maintain that Grass is not an Antisemite but that he instrumentalises antisemitic preferences, and that he has a good point in criticising the military threats made by Israel but spoils it by using the wrong means.
    If he only instrumentalises, he is at least a cynic, but writing that Israel threatens the peace of the world is the recoining of a phrase which the Nazis used to yell: The International Jew threatens the peace of the World.
    So, ..
    I wasn`t allowed to post this at the “liberal” Standard in Austria.

    Maybe it is time to take precautions.

  3. Nothing like a former SS man warning the world about Jewish danger to get the heard of a true liberal a-flutter…..

    ….please please PLEASE remember that there ARE still some genuine liberals around in the world. Even though it sometimes seems that we’re a dying breed.

    • Which harm precisely?
      It can be considered as foolish to react like that, on the other side it was published and commented a lot, and this pamphlet takes the side of the Iranian dictatorship by changing the sides of the aggressors and inverting the threat to annihilate Israel made by the Iranian islamists since thirty years.

  4. Alex

    Regardless of whether or not the travel ban was a mistake, I – and perhaps others – take from Adam’s article an idea of what lurks just below the surface of so-called liberalism today.

    What you appear to be saying – unless I’m mistaken – is “don’t disturb the beehive”.

    Tiptoeing around the beehive, least it angers the bees and causes them to sting doesn’t alter the nature of the bees.

    Or are we looking at the bizarre nature of liberalism today: a movement that can’t strike the balance between the need for morality AND rationality? To say nothing of independant inquiry.

    Liberalism today seems not to deal in facts or the notion of right and wrong, but is provoked into its position by its perception of who appears to be the smaller; the weaker; the victim – and then takes that side.

  5. Gunter Grass is a writer who I once admired greatly. It has been clear for some time that he is a fraud and a hypocrite who concealed his membership in the Waffen SS at the end of WWII. It is now also clear, to my disappointment, that he is also a Jew hater, and that he has no regret whatsoever about his “poem”, except perhaps that some decided to call him on this one. His most recent response, in which is he compares Israel to the GDR and the oppressive regime in Myanmar should dispell any doubt:

    “…Guenter Grass says Israel’s decision to bar him from visiting the country because of his poem criticizing the Jewish state reminds him of similar steps that dictatorial governments have taken against him.

    Previously the German literature Nobel laureate has only been barred from entering a nation by then Communist-ruled East Germany and the military junta in Myanmar about 25 years ago, Grass said in a reaction piece published by German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday.

    Grass, 84, said the tone of Israel’s announcement on Sunday reminded him of the reasoning then given by spy minister Erich Mielke of East Germany, or GDR.

    “The GDR has ceased to exist. Israel’s government, however, as a nuclear power of uncontrolled scope, considers itself powerful on its own and is so far not open for admonitions. In Myanmar alone, there are seeds of hope,” he wrote, referring to the Southeast Asian nation’s recent political thaw.

    In his poem “What Must Be Said,” published by Sueddeutsche Zeitung and other dailies across Europe on April 4, Grass criticized what he called Western hypocrisy over Israel’s nuclear program and labeled the country a threat to “already fragile world peace” over its belligerent stance regarding Iran.”

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2012/04/11/international/i103325D50.DTL

  6. “Banning Grass from traveling to Israel amounts to state censorship”

    Would the Guardian say the same thing about Britain’s ban on Michael Savage?

    • Michael Savage was barred on the grounds of hate speech and incitement. There is simply no comparison with Grass.

      • And naturally Raed Salah was not barred – the good British judge declared that the blood libel is not hate speech.

            • a) Where is the quote in which the British judge declared that “the blood libel is not hate speech”?
              b) Where – as alleged by the JC leader – does the G. claim a “Jewish conspiracy” and/or provide a “classic, shocking and immensely significant example of pure antisemitism”??

              • Pretzel I ‘m not your intern to look up stuff for you. Read the judgment (freely available on the web) and you’ll fint the part where Justice Ockleton agrees that Salah indeed did use the blood-libel in his sermon, but he doesn’t see this fact a good enough reason to ban him.

      • There is indeed no comparison; Grass is a Nazi who hates Jews and wishes to incite another Holocaust; Savage is simply an American Jew with loud opinions.

        Pretzelberg’s comments about Savage would, in fact, be defamatory had the US not a “public figure” exception.

  7. Declaring Grass persona non grata in Israel was a big mistake as it panders to his evident need to gain some dubiously positive attention, apparently to offset the panning he took from literary critics for most of his novels written since the successful TinDrum. Besides which, what possible relevance does he have to the political situation between Israel and Iran? Who gives a toss for his opinion? Why should his opinion carry more weight than say, mine, or Adam Levick’s or Pretzelburg’s or indeed, anyone else?

    As for the Guardian, the less said the better. Not only gleefully supportive of “poet” Salah, but slavishly promoting a clapped-out, egotistical, failed writer. It really is becoming the newspaper for lost causes.

  8. It’s has come to this, that a despicable former member of the Waffen-SS. Nazi’s who where in charge of the genocide of the Jews.Can write a shitty poem blaming the Israeli’s of endangering world peace……

    And even worse than him are these Jews who are defending him…..

  9. When will Israel kick out Harriet Sherwood the reporter of the Racist Guardian .

  10. Larry Derfner is a failed journalist that was turfed out of the Jerusalem Post.His articles were third rate worthy only of these Loony Left web-sites.

    Posters responding to his articles in the JP had a good laugh at his dopey articles……………

  11. It’s Amazing that this Racist Guardian could sink any lower,They have this endless hatred for Israel,that enentually will consume them…….

  12. Pingback: “What Must Be Said” Is Nothing

  13. After all the brouhaha, hasbara and cries of “antisemite!” the FT in germany conducted a poll. Currently out of 21 thousand responses 85% see Grass’ statements as correct or arguable.

    http://www.ftd.de/politik/deutschland/:die-israel-thesen-von-guenter-grass-sind/70019546.html

    As I said before, false accusations of antisemitism are no longer effective and are even counterproductive. The sad thing is that because the term has been so devalued by this tactic, real antisemitic acts are taken less seriously and can be defended by saying that everyone seems to be an antisemite these days, or words to that effect.

    • What now out of 21.000, correct or arguable?
      And to call that hate incitement thesis is at least arguable, but not correct.
      You just want to deflect from the expressed hate and disguise it as normal discourse, a well-known tactic of anti-Semites to establish hate against Jews as normal in the middle of society .

  14. Just came across this, it seems that it’s not just Germany. The US mainstream is picking this up. Something that would never have happened a year ago.

    From the NYT:

    “One word has surfaced consistently in such discussions: “keule,” which means club or cudgel. The charge of anti-Semitism aimed at Israel’s critics — and in the case of Mr. Grass, by bringing up his past as a member of the Waffen-SS — is widely viewed as a blunt instrument that silences debate, and in the process prevents Mr. Grass from making a point about the dangers of a first strike by Israel against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/world/europe/with-gunter-grasss-poem-germans-anti-israel-whispers-grow-louder.html?_r=1

    I know many won’t like this, but surely it’s worth serious consideration?

    • The headline tells the truth of your misrepresentation of this article
      !Once Taboo, Germans’ Anti-Israel Whispers Grow Louder” – like yours.

      “They are not allowed to say anything about Jewish people, and they will never say anything about Jewish people, but to say everything about Israel is O.K.,” Mr. Avrahami said. “It’s absolutely the new anti-Semitism for us.”

      “Israel has earned criticism,” he said, “but not on this level.”
      Maxim Biller, a German writer and commentator who is Jewish, welcomed the more open debate. “Is it better to keep the lions in their cages, or does it make the lions more and more furious that one day they will jump out of their cages and do their thing?” Mr. Biller asked. “Maybe it’s very good that from time to time one of these old men opens his mouth, says something like this, and then people discuss it.”

      “As a potential target of these people,” he said, “I’m quite happy that the elite is still defending some clear positions.”

      Something Alex as representative of the new one does not like.

  15. “Currently out of 21 thousand responses 85% see Grass’ statements as correct or arguable.”

    That just proves Germany has not changed nor abandoned its centuries-long, ingrained, vicious racism. Why are we not surprised?

    • Germany is Israel’s only consistent no-questions-asked European supporter. I’m sure they’d love to know your opinion.

  16. Pingback: ISRAEL’S EXISTENTIAL DILEMMA: “What must be said” « DUCKPOND

  17. The point is that not only the German Easter marches were on the time table but also the murder of Jewish children by an Islamist at Toulouse who killed them for Palestine according to his confession on the telephone.
    And the negotiations in Istanbul.
    And now the victims are already history, bygone, everybody concentrates on a non existing plan of a nuclear hit.
    Something for which those certain people, from Iran to the organisers of the Easter marches, congratulate Grass.

    Something very evil is moving again.

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