Trending Topics:

Gunter Grass became ‘persona non grata’ for 2012 poem exposing Israeli nuclear hypocrisy

Middle East
on 23 Comments

Gunter Grass died today in Germany. One of the heroes of my childhood, he could roll cigarettes with one hand, as he demonstrated when he filled the largest hall at my college in the 70s.

Grass was the “conscience of a generation,” BBC said today, but he became “virtually a persona non grata” after the publication of a poem in 2012– which we publish below — criticizing Israel, Thomas Kielinger of Die Welt told the broadcast. He added that Grass went somewhat “off his rocker” politically.

It was Grass’s 2006 revelation that he had been a member of the Nazi Waffen SS as a youth that sent shockwaves; but it was the poem, “What Must Be Said,” addressing Israel’s nuclear capability that marginalized him.


His political views continued to divide opinion, and he last made headlines in 2012 with a poem that warned that Israel could launch a nuclear attack on Iran and threaten world peace.

Critics accused him of anti-Semitism. The author himself said he had often supported Israel and had intended to attack the policies of its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The controversy beats out the 1959 international bestseller and literary triumph, The Tin Drum, making paragraph 4 of the NY Times obituary. That’s nuts.

In 2012, Mr. Grass found himself the subject of further scrutiny after publishing a poem criticizing Israel for its hostile language toward Iran over its nuclear program. He expressed revulsion at the idea that Israel might be justified in attacking Iran over a perceived nuclear threat and said that it “endangers the already fragile world peace.”

The poem prompted an international controversy and a personal attack from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Grass later said that he had meant to attack Israel’s government rather than the country as a whole.

It would appear that the biggest critic of the poem was Benjamin Netanyahu:

“Günter Grass’s shameful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran, a regime that denies the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel, says little about Israel and much about Mr. Grass,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “For six decades, Mr. Grass hid the fact that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS. So for him to cast the one and only Jewish state as the greatest threat to world peace and to oppose giving Israel the means to defend itself is perhaps not surprising,” the prime minister added….

The poem was immediately criticized by senior German politicians, the head of the Council of Jews in Germany and numerous cultural commentators in Germany and Israel, some of whom accused Grass of anti-Semitism. Emmanuel Nahshon, an Israeli envoy to Berlin, felt reminded of “blood libels,” which historically took place before Passover
So the rightwing Netanyahu then had the power to cast out a western cultural figure. A similar process underwent Jimmy Carter when he dared to suggest in 2006 that Israel practiced apartheid.
Here’s the poem:
What Must Be Said

Why do I stay silent, conceal for too long
What clearly is and has been
Practiced in war games, at the end of which we as survivors
Are at best footnotes.

It is the alleged right to first strike
That could annihilate the Iranian people–
Enslaved by a loud-mouth
And guided to organized jubilation–
Because in their territory,
It is suspected, a bomb is being built.

Yet why do I forbid myself
To name that other country
In which, for years, even if secretly,
There has been a growing nuclear potential at hand
But beyond control, because no inspection is available?

The universal concealment of these facts,
To which my silence subordinated itself,
I sense as incriminating lies
And force–the punishment is promised
As soon as it is ignored;
The verdict of “anti-Semitism” is familiar.

Now, though, because in my country
Which from time to time has sought and confronted
Its very own crime
That is without compare
In turn on a purely commercial basis, if also
With nimble lips calling it a reparation, declares
A further U-boat should be delivered to Israel,
Whose specialty consists of guiding all-destroying warheads to where the existence
Of a single atomic bomb is unproven,
But as a fear wishes to be conclusive,
I say what must be said.

Why though have I stayed silent until now?
Because I thought my origin,
Afflicted by a stain never to be expunged
Kept the state of Israel, to which I am bound

And wish to stay bound,
From accepting this fact as pronounced truth.Why do I say only now,
Aged and with my last ink,
That the nuclear power of Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace?
Because it must be said
What even tomorrow may be too late to say;
Also because we–as Germans burdened enough–
Could be the suppliers to a crime
That is foreseeable, wherefore our complicity
Could not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.And granted: I am silent no longer
Because I am tired of the hypocrisy
Of the West; in addition to which it is to be hoped
That this will free many from silence,
That they may prompt the perpetrator of the recognized danger
To renounce violence and
Likewise insist
That an unhindered and permanent control
Of the Israeli nuclear potential
And the Iranian nuclear sites
Be authorized through an international agency
By the governments of both countries.

Only this way are all, the Israelis and Palestinians,
Even more, all people, that in this
Region occupied by mania
Live cheek by jowl among enemies,
And also us, to be helped.

 By the way, Israel’s nuclear arsenal is spoken of more openly today than it was even in 2012, because the hypocrisy has become so patent. Hillary Mann Leverett said last week in Washington:
Any new overt use of U.S. force to disarm yet another Middle Eastern state of weapons of mass destruction that it does not have while staying quiet about Israel’s 200-plus nuclear weapons arsenal, would elevate already high levels of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East, threaten our remaining allies there, and render their cooperation with the United States practically impossible.
About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

Other posts by .

Posted In:

23 Responses

  1. Krauss
    April 13, 2015, 10:34 am

    A lot of people are going to be re-examined as the years pass because they were cast out for their views on Israel. Gore Vidal was another figure who was attacked and smeared because he didn’t bow to Israel.

    The lobby does seem to reserve a special hatred for gentile centrist/center-of-left intellectuals who are not craven to their dream castle Israel.

    Remember how Dana Milbank racialized Mearsheimer’s white knuckles and singled out his Germanic name in his hysterical attack in 2006. This is a sign of a psychological psychosis.

    Germany as a culture is also pretty degraded and backwards in general. Something that Max Blumenthal has spoken about a lot. They had a panel on anti-Semitism without a single Jew recently (which speaks volumes of how anti-Semitism is a political tool to be used rather than a real concern in the body politic) and if you’re an anti-Zionist Jew then Christian Germans will take the liberty to attack you as anti-Semitic. They are also under somekind of psychological psychosis.

    • lysias
      April 14, 2015, 12:13 pm

      Solzhenitsyn too. His two-volume work on the history of Jews in Russia has been published in Russian of course, as well as in translations into German and French that appeared promptly after the Russian original. But no translation into English has yet been published anywhere.

    • Antidote
      April 14, 2015, 7:13 pm

      re: German psychological psychosis

      “Right-wing media outlet Israel National News published an opinion piece Tuesday calling on Israel to launch nuclear bombs at Iran and Germany, only days after the outlet came under fire for publishing a piece accusing a war widow of killing her husband over her pro-peace views.

      In the opinion article published Tuesday, the author claims that only through nuclear annihilation of Iran and Germany, with 20 or 30 nuclear bombs each, can Israelis prevent the state’s destruction.

      “If Israel does not walk in the ways of God’s Bible,” author Chen Ben-Eliyahu wrote in Hebrew, “it will receive a heavy punishment of near complete destruction and doom and only a few will be saved.”

      One of Israel’s missions is to remember the crimes of Amalek, a tribe representative of pure evil in the Bible, whom Jews are commanded to obliterate. Among those descended from the band, the author writes, are Iranian leaders Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and current President Hassan Rouhani.

      “They don’t miss an opportunity to discuss the need for the annihilation of Israel,” he wrote.

      To combat this Israel must respond in kind, Ben-Eliyahu declared. “To an existential threat we must respond with an existential threat,” he wrote, “not with speeches in Congress. We must make it clear to the Iranians that Israel will wipe out their nuclear program and Tehran and Isfahan as well.”

      “If [an enemy] rises up to destroy you, rise earlier to destroy him: twenty, thirty nuclear bombs will do to assure the job gets done,” he continued.

      He also called on the Jewish people to remember its near destruction at the hands of the Nazis and exact revenge on Germany, now a staunch ally of Israel.

      When the Messiah comes, Ben-Eliyahu wrote, Israel will reverse the Final Solution. “Twenty, thirty atomic bombs on Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Nuremberg, Cologne, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Dresden, Dortmund and so on to assure the job gets done. And the land will be quiet for a thousand years,” he wrote.

      Israel National News refused to comment on the website’s decision to run the op-ed.

      Read more: Op-ed calls on Israel to nuke Germany, Iran | The Times of Israel

  2. johneill
    April 13, 2015, 11:14 am

    thank for republishing this timely (again and again, timely) poem. with the loss of this literary giant, the new york times obviously mentioned it first of all his numerous and wonderful works, without glancing at the meaning of it.

    “That an unhindered and permanent control
    Of the Israeli nuclear potential
    And the Iranian nuclear sites
    Be authorized through an international agency
    By the governments of both countries.”

    these lines especially seem relevant vis a vis the negotiations with iran. if only that agency could inspect israel’s nuclear sites as it must iran’s. (freedom for jc vanunu)

  3. pabelmont
    April 13, 2015, 12:12 pm

    The use of social pressure (called “political correctness”) to silence not only points of view but the discussion of entire topics is well known. It is more vile even than “bad manners” to mention certain things. In Germany, so it seems, to speak forthrightly about Israel (or about Germany’s selling Israel a U-boot (Anybody remember the movie “Das Boot” ?)) is forbidden, presumably because guilt for the Jews-as-victims aspect of (the wider) holocaust is still so thoroughly remembered and integrated into “good manners”.

    In David Koch’s circle, one imagines, speaking approvingly of the theory of the onrushing horrors of global warming/climate change is worse than mere “bad manners”, was not “politically correct” and is indeed forbidden.

    Great crises are ignored because of small matters of “politeness”.

    We are not to read Paul Robeson’s political teachings because that great man was “a communist, you know, my dear” and it wouldn’t do at all to quote or approve of a communist. Not at all polite. Not comme il faut.

    We are not to read Bayard Rustin’s writings on socialism or race in America because Mr. Rustin was queer, you know, and it would never do at all to quote or approve of a queer, deeery-deery no, not at all. (I could have written “gay” instead of “queer”, but it doesn’t have the discriminatory bite, not in my ears, that I desired to convey. We do like to put down opinion of people we don’t approve of.)

    Manners! Manners! More important than anything else, makes the world go round — and protects wrongdoers by imposing silence on their detractors. And their detractors are often “bad guys” in one way or another, because it is automatically “bad” to oppose status quo.

    This has been a paid advertisement from America’s Oligarchy which is bringing you — today and especially tomorrow — climate change (but please don’t rock the boat!).

  4. marc b.
    marc b.
    April 13, 2015, 1:18 pm

    Grass advocated against the reunification of Germany to avoid the recurrence of past bad behavior, but that’s not important because he said critical things about Israel’s nuclear weapons. Criticism is only permitted of its admirable faults, e.g. it’s too democratic, too forgiving, too selfless, too restrained . . . .

    • lysias
      April 14, 2015, 12:16 pm

      We do not yet know whether the reunification of Germany (and the attendant abolition of an East Germany that had become democratic and non-totalitarian) willl turn out to have been a good or a bad thing. Bismarck’s unification of Germany appeared to many people to be a good thing in Bismarck’s lifetime.

      And even if Grass’s judgment on German reunification turns out to have been mistaken, it was understandable, given his own history and his country’s history.

      • OyVey00
        April 14, 2015, 12:57 pm

        > East Germany
        > democratic


      • lysias
        April 15, 2015, 12:48 pm

        East Germany held a democratic election in its last year. It had a democratically elected president.

      • lysias
        April 15, 2015, 4:13 pm
  5. just
    April 13, 2015, 2:25 pm

    RIP to a magnificent author.

    His work and brilliance live on. Thanks, Phil.

    His/our greatest triumph will be when his great poem,”What Must Be Said”, is actually heard and understood.

  6. Citizen
    April 13, 2015, 3:10 pm

    So what’s new? Grass was honest about everything, so was Solsanitzen in his books, including 200 years Together–result of these great novelists input? Zero. You can’t even buy the Russian’s named book in English translation. “Whenever I hear the word ‘culture’ I want to unlock my Uzi”

  7. Citizen
    April 13, 2015, 3:51 pm

    In honor of Gunter Grass expose on Israel’s nukes, here’s another world hero who’s book isn’t published in US:

  8. rensanceman
    April 13, 2015, 5:41 pm

    Regarding the Iran/nuke issue, Gareth Porter dropped a small bomb in his talk last week at the seminar addressing AIPAC’s influence in reporting that John Bolton took an unauthorized trip to Israel ( I.e not State Department approved) to meet with the Mossad which produced drawings purportedly showing showed some evidence of clandestine activity involving nuclear weapon development. The documents wound up in the hands of the IAEA and has since served as the smoking gun which has ignited the alarm bells since. He elaborates on this in his newly published book.
    I watch with wonder but with increasing alarm at the pernicious influence of AIPAC and the neocons in pushing their war agenda and at some of the rhetoric from our national leaders in Congress. I believe that they have crossed red lines with the zeal of converts.

  9. The Hasbara Buster
    The Hasbara Buster
    April 13, 2015, 6:54 pm

    To dissect Netanyahu’s response:

    Günter Grass’s shameful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran, a regime that denies the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel

    Israel denies the Armenian genocide, so I’d say there’s an equivalence there. And Iran only threatens to annihilate Israel in response to an Israeli attack. Using strong language to make your enemy think twice before attacking you is perfectly acceptable.

    For six decades, Mr. Grass hid the fact that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS

    That’s called an ad-hominem attack — instead of tackling Mr. Grass’s statements, he tackles his personality.

    THAT BEING SAID, I must also add that this is not a poem, this is a pamphlet. Maybe it had to be presented as a literary work so that people around the world would pay attention to it. But poetry it is not, and I think any literary critic would concur.

  10. wondering jew
    wondering jew
    April 13, 2015, 8:58 pm

    I suppose a journalist would know best as to what should come first in an obituary. The Iran-Israel conflict on the issue of nukes is on the front page and its timeliness might have propelled the obit writer to include it early in the article. Because the Waffen SS fact and hiding of the fact was a major stain on his career and had to be mentioned early on, the Iran-Israel poem fit into that kerfuffle (if only as an accusation) and thus was included early on in the obit.

  11. Bandolero
    April 14, 2015, 12:50 am


    It’s likely that there is this one one poem, what’s outstanstanding, what is the one real historic achievement of Günter Grass. As a baby boomer blessed with the gift of late birth I could never stand anything Günter Grass wrote, Nobel Prize here, or there.

    But I remember quite well that early in 2012 I had someone questioning me on Israel and Germany on my blog. He was especially interested in topics of guilt and the Israel lobby, and very afraid of bad information that could get him into bad waters.

    I have no idea who that was, but I told it him all. From BDS for apartheid, over Stephen Walt’s book on the Israel lobby up to the German guilt komplex as I knew it from Jews from Neturei Karta, who where in Germany for Quds day, I told the commenting guy all I knew as best as I could. And a couple of months later: Boom! The poem Grass has published met all the most important topics I had in that discussion with that anonymous comment writer.

    I have still no idea whether my dialogue partner was Grass or not, but it struck me.

    However, whatever the truth is. That one poem was the one masterpiece of work what makes you a real hero and a historical significant person in the global struggle for justice. Thank You.

    Rest in Peace, Günter Grass.

  12. Bandolero
    April 14, 2015, 1:23 am


    The main achievement of Günter Grass with his poem was not exposing the Israeli nuclear hypocrisy, but exposing the German guilt mechanism.

    That’s what the lobby and Netanyahu made so angry. The Nuclear hypocrisy was axpoed by Mordachai Vanunu before. But what Grass did, was that he exposed that it is immoral for Germans, though rightly blamed for crimes against jews, to support Israeli crimes against world peace.

  13. eGuard
    April 14, 2015, 5:15 am

    The BBC writes: Critics accused him of anti-Semitism – and then: nothing more, nothing to substantiate that. Just throwing around that word is enough for the BBC.

    It’s the new Godwin.

    • lysias
      April 14, 2015, 12:18 pm

      More and more, the BBC deserves the treatment Orwell gave it in Nineteen Eighty-Four (largely based on Orwell’s experiences working for the BBC during World War Two).

  14. traintosiberia
    April 17, 2015, 9:59 am

    “Indeed, Americans who did take Saudi money – including academic institutions and non-governmental organizations – were often pilloried as tools of the Arabs, with the Israel Lobby and its propagandists raising the political cost of accepting Saudi largesse so high that many people and institutions shied away.

    But Saudi Arabia may have found another way to buy influence inside the United States – by giving money to Israel and currying favor with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Over the past several years, as both Saudi Arabia and Israel have identified Iran and the so-called “Shiite crescent” as their principal enemies, this once-unthinkable alliance has become possible – and the Saudis, as they are wont to do, may have thrown lots of money into the deal.

    Robert Parry

    Silence the critic and relentlessly demonize them until they return to the fold or simply disappear

Leave a Reply