Guenter Grass's Folly and Israel's Tyranny

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By Lisa Beyer

It is probably not a good idea for a former member of the SS to criticize the state of Israel. Period, full stop.

However, the essential point of the poem that got German author and Nobel laureate Guenter Grass banned from Israel yesterday -- that Israel endangers peace by threatening a first strike on Iran -- is also made by no less a figure than Israel's former spy chief, Meir Dagan. For about a year, Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, has been publicly challenging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's saber rattling, most recently in a "60 Minutes" appearance arguing that an Israeli raid would provoke regional war and was therefore a "stupid idea."

In his poem, "What Must Be Said," Grass correctly predicted what kind of reaction --- especially in Israel -- the poem would provoke. "The verdict of 'anti-Semitism' is familiar," reads one line. The poem also refers to a "stain never to be expunged" -- a reference not only to Grass's German heritage but to his membership, as a youth, in the armed unit of the SS.

In declaring Grass persona non grata, Israel's Interior Minister Eli Yishai said, absurdly, that the poem was "an attempt to guide the fire of hatred" toward Israel and its people "and to advance the ideas" of Nazism.

Publishing the poem, considering Grass's past, certainly qualifies as one man's folly. Yet Israel's response amounts to an act of tyranny. Israel, rightfully, takes pride in its democratic traditions, and uses them as an argument for the West's support. Democracies, as Israel knows, don't ban people for their ideas.

(Lisa Beyer is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)

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-0- Apr/09/2012 21:32 GMT