In case you haven't heard Gunter Grass has compared Interior Minister Eli Yishai to Erich Mielke, the head of the Stasi, for barring him from Israel, and German pianist Moritz Eggert has written a fabulous song (I kid you not) 'Israel, I love you, but don't attack Iran". That's the latest big news on Grass but what remains the most interesting aspect of the Grass story is the astounding growth of the conversation.
The other day under the story here, Jakob Augstein and Gideon Levy have Gunter Grass’s back, commenter Klaus Bloemker linked to an online poll in The Financial Times Deutschland.
“The statements by Grass are …
- insane 8%
- dangerous 4%
- antisemitic 4%
- worth discussing/arguable 27%
- correct 57%
Till now the number of people who voted is 9700.
The respondents who see Grass’ statements as correct or at least arguable: 84%.
The percentages still hold strong with over 21,000 respondents. The title of Nicholas Kulish's piece in the NYT today, Once Taboo, Germans’ Anti-Israel Whispers Grow Louder, is perhaps an understatement. Even some critics of Grass's seem to grok the public has his back.
Speaking out loudly and publicly about Israel was just not done in Germany for obvious historical reasons. But Grass's poem seems to have opened up a floodgate.
Sharp criticism of Israel, particularly from the left, has long been a tradition among European intellectuals, and Mr. Grass’s poem caused little stir on the Continent outside of Germany. But political and scholarly elites here have more often resisted that trend, tending to see basic support for Israel as a German responsibility, if not a necessity, after the Holocaust.
But the public response to the furor over Mr. Grass’s poem suggests that that attitude is breaking down as World War II recedes into history. “In the populism you see surfacing on a large scale, the public is all behind Grass,” said Georg Diez, an author and journalist at the magazine Der Spiegel who has written critically of the poem.
More than a week after the publication of “What Must Be Said,” it was still the subject of significant discussion. In the Thursday issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, another critical commentary appeared, this time with the headline “He Is the Preacher With the Wooden Mallet.” And on Thursday night, the talk show host Maybrit Illner held yet another televised discussion, “Grass in the Pillory: Is Criticizing Israel Really Taboo?”
Interestingly Heather Horn's article at the Atlantic, Germany's National Debate Over Guilt, the Holocaust, Israel, and Gunter Grass, fails to mention this angle of the public response, at all.
In the firestorm that has followed, even those opposing Israeli foreign policy have taken issue with Grass's poem, which portrayed Israel as a danger to world peace. In Germany in particular, the criticism is ferocious, and extends to the highest levels of politics. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has called "putting Israel and Iran on the same moral level [...] absurd," while Rainer Stinner, speaker for the Free Democratic Party in the Bundestag, has tried to shrug it off: "Grass is a writer. Politically, I've always thought him an idiot." But the question that Grass's German critics seem to be tackling is a tricky one: is Grass merely naïve and possibly careerist, or is there something more subconsciously sinister at work?
Many of the critics seem to feel it's the latter, and that's why they find the poem so repellent. Grass, they argue, is attempting to will into reality a Freudian inversion of past German sins. His poem is an emotional rebalancing of the Holocaust, casting Israel, founded by 20th-century Jewish victims, as a 21st-century existential threat to Iranians.
Okay Heather, let's just keep on talking.