Nobel Prize winning writer Günter Grass has written what is rather a pamphlet than a poem. Published by the New York Times, El Pais and La Repubblica simultaneously, his latest work Was gesagt werden muss (What has to be said) is nothing more than a trivial indictment of Israel, a country Grass considers a constant threat to world peace. The writer alleges that Israel claims a “right to strike first” with the underlying intention of eliminating the Iranian people. He describes Israel as a nuclear power endangering a world peace which is “brittle anyway”.
With the publication of his poem a few days before Passover, Grass seems in good and long-time company, historically speaking. Since the middle ages, Jews have been accused of ritual murder immediately before Pesah in Europe. As early as 1144, the Jews of Norfolk, England, were alleged to have kidnapped, tortured and crucified an aristocratic child, William of Norwich, to celebrate Passover and mock Christian Easter holidays. Since then, accusations of ritual murder by Jews have been used to trigger off pogroms in various countries of Europe, in particular Germany. Grass only adds to this by slandering Israel to be planning a genocide.
The nobel prize winner’s attitude seems barely informed by political insight. He hasn’t got any word to lose on Iran’s continuous threats to wipe out Israel and the Jews. In his view, Iran’s leader Ahmadinedjad isn’t a real danger to Israel but just a loudmouth. Not only because of this one-sidedness, Grass’s poem loses all literary merit. In fact it reminds the critical reader of some of the worst lyrical smears produced by aligned East German poets at the time of the GDR, with little mastery of aesthetics. And by turning Israelis from victims of a genocidal threat to its perpetrators, he commits more than just a slight political incorrectness.
Dieter Graumann, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has duly reacted, criticizing the text as an “aggressive pamphlet of agitation”. “An outstanding author may be a far cry from an outstanding analyst of Near East politics”, is Graumann’s scathing summary.
Grass received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999, when on the summit of his reputation as a writer. Since then, however, some of his publications have been called mediocre by literary critics. Perhaps he senses the reasons for this decline himself, when characterizing himself as “aged” and his writing as produced “mit letzter Tinte” (with the last drop of ink).