Tag Archives: jeffrey goldberg

The arms sale that inspired Grass’s “What Must Be Said” (and a footnote on Deir Yassin)

The publication of German Nobel Prize Laureate Gunter Grass’s poem, “Was gesagt werden muss” (What Must Be Said), has triggered a predictable avalanche of outrage, from Benjamin Netanyahu’s vitriolic condemnation of the poem to accusations by the Israeli Embassy to Germany and former Israeli prison guard Jeffrey Goldberg (the two are virtually indistinguishable these days) that Grass is guilty of a “blood libel.” Last weekend, the campaign against ¬†Grass reached its crescendo when Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai designated him “persona non grata,” thus ranking the octogenarian scribe right behind Arab babies as one of the greatest existential threats to the Jewish state.

Grass’s service at age 17 in the Nazi regime’s Waffen SS has provided an easy line of attack for those seeking to dull the impact of his poem. New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner quoted Israeli columnist Anshel Pfeffer’s claim that Grass’s service in the Nazi regime’s Waffen SS “disqualified him from criticizing the descendants of those Jews for developing a weapon of last resort that is the insurance policy against someone finishing the job his organization began.” Pfeffer, by the way, is the same writer who boldly declared almost a year ago that “Israel must stop overplaying the Holocaust card.”

Like the rest of Grass’s assailants, Pfeffer omitted the fact that Grass was forcibly conscripted into the German military in 1944 (just as Pfeffer was drafted into the IDF, an occupying army to which Bronner’s son volunteered), serving as a Panzer tank gunner during the last stages of the war. Grass may be no more of a Nazi than Pope Benedict XVI, who was conscripted against his will into the Hitler Youth, but when have Zionists ever let historical nuance get in the way of a campaign to muzzle critics of Israeli policy?

Like Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu before him, Grass stands to suffer serious damage to his legacy for daring to say what must be said. But his poem will endure simply because he has opened up a debate of unprecedented scale on the perverse special relationship between Germany and Israel. Grass wrote:

my own country,

guilty of primal and unequalled crimes,

for which time and again it must be tasked –

once again in pure commerce,

though with quick lips we declare it

reparations, wants to send

Israel another submarine –

one whose specialty is to deliver

warheads capable of ending all life

where the existence of even one

nuclear weapon remains unproven…

Here Grass referred to Germany’s sale of a Dolphin class submarine to Israel at a deep discount subsidized by German taxpayers. As I wrote at Al Akhbar English, Israel requested that Germany widen the torpedo tubes of its submarines to accomodate the launching of tactical nuclear missiles at Iran’s nuclear facilities. So Grass was essentially correct: German citizens were corralled into providing Israel with a mobile delivery platform for its massive nuclear weapons arsenal, which it maintains without any international supervision. And they were compelled to do so out of Holocaust guilt — as Reuters’ Israel correspondent Dan Williams wrote, “as part of Berlin’s commitment to shoring up a Jewish state founded in the wake of the Holocaust.”

If Grass got anything wrong, it was the difference between tactical nuclear missiles, which are designed to deliver a massive blow to a concentrated area, and the kind of nuclear bombs that killed hundreds of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tactical nuclear weapons may not be “capable of ending all life,” as Grass wrote, but they would represent the first deployment of nuclear missiles since World War II. On the other hand, as the Center for Strategic and International Studies noted in a study on the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran, “Any strike on [Iran's] Bushehr Nuclear Reactor will cause the immediate death of thousands of people living in or adjacent to the site, and thousands of subsequent cancer deaths or even up to hundreds of thousands depending on the population density along the contamination plume.”

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Today is the 64th anniversary of the massacre carried out in Deir Yassin by the Stern Gang/Irgun militias led by future Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Since a theme of this post is Zionist exploitation of the Jewish genocide in Europe, here is a little known fact: According to Shimon Tzabar, a journalist, artist, and leading figure in the anti-Zionist Israeli group Matzpen, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharanoth claimed Nazi troops were present in the Palestinian village at the time. “In Deir-Yassin there were soldiers of regular foreign armies, including Nazis with swastika emblems,” Yedioth Aharanoth reporter Eliahu Amikam wrote in August 1960. “Among the corpses there were Iraqis, Syrians and Yugoslavs lying in their military uniform. Swastika ribbons were torn off their sleeves.”

This was originally published at Al Akhbar English.