Letters to the Editor, Haaretz, 18.4.2012

A little historical awareness

In response to "Israelis can be angry with Gunter Grass, but they must listen to him," April 8

Gideon Levy admits that Gunter Grass' criticism of Israel did go a few steps too far, but he feels it is a result of the many years in Germany when it was prohibited to criticize Israel. Yoram Kaniuk, in his book "The Last Berliner," describes a public debate he had with Grass some 20 years ago. The debate took place in Germany around the time of the first Gulf War, when Iraqi Scud missiles were fired upon Israel and when there was concern that Saddam Hussein would use chemical weapons he developed with the help of German companies. Grass, like many of his colleagues in the German left, refused to address or reprimand these German companies or display even a drop of support for beleaguered Israel. It seems that the German companies' role in Saddam Hussein's program to develop weapons of mass destruction did not trouble Grass then as much as he is troubled today by the supply of German submarines to Israel. Alongside Grass' opposition to the war against Iraq, which invaded Kuwait, Kaniuk wrote, Grass repeatedly steered their debate toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the suffering Israel is inflicting on the Palestinians in the territories. Hence, Grass' critique of Israel is nothing new.

Indeed, criticism of Israel is legitimate and should be taken note of, especially when it comes from intellectuals or other distinguished figures. However, when Grass writes that Israel is endangering world peace, I cannot help but get the chills, given the inevitable parallel to Hitler's speech in the Reichstag in early 1939 when he spoke of "the danger" that the Jews will bring the nations to another world war. Is it too much to expect that an esteemed writer such as Grass, even overlooking the stain on his past, might demonstrate a little historical awareness?

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