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As The Twig Is Bent, So Grows the Grass?

The anti-Semitic tide continues to rise across Europe, from France to Sweden to Hungary. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Josef Joffe, the sharp editor of Die Zeit, deconstructs a German example: the recent ravings of Nobel Laureate Günter Grass. Joffe first recaps the sordid story:

Just before Easter this year, Mr. Grass launched a bigger bombshell, a poem titled “What Must Be Said.” The gist: For too long, the poet had been cowed into silence by what he calls the “verdict of anti-Semitism.”

But in his dotage, he finally dared speak out against the diktat because Israel was readying a “first strike” that would “extinguish” Iran and the “fragile world peace.” Germany, though, would “share the guilt” because it was arming Israel with nuclear-capable U-boats.

Thus did the bard go into battle against “hypocrisy” and “lies.” Never mind that Iran is routinely threatening Israel with eradication. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is but a “loudmouth,” a lamb in wolf’s clothing.

Israel, in Grass’s warped conception, is the nuclear threat in the region, out to annihilate the Iranian populace. Grass’s charge that Israel is threatening a nuclear strike against Iran (except in retaliation for an Iranian nuclear strike on Israel) comes from the steamy depths of the novelist’s imagination, where the fear of Jewish plots appears to have survived from his youth.

Confronted with such ugly moral inversion, Joffe calls a spade a spade:

After the Holocaust, traditional anti-Semitism is out. Jews are no longer fingered as Christ killers, usurers and despoilers of the Aryan race.

But Mr. Grass’s indictment is rife with post-Shoah analogues. Carefully coded, it pins on the Jewish state what used to be applied to Jews throughout the ages.

We are not talking here about criticizing Israeli policy, a legitimate pursuit. Mr. Grass now charges Israel with concocting the greatest possible evil: a nuclear Holocaust to be visited on Iran and the entire world.

Even as Mr. Grass touts his “attachment” to Israel, recalling the my-best-friends-are-Jewish refrain, he casts the tiny country as an überpower. Apart from threatening the globe, Mr. Grass imagines, Israel enslaves 80 million Germans by wielding the Shoah to gouge U-boats out of Berlin and to suppress “what must be said.”

This is mendacity to the max.

Read the whole thing. Joffe carefully unpacks the motivations behind such anti-Semitic sentiments in German society, pointing out that the country is not an exception. Rather, “[t]he norm for Europe is for 15%-20% of the population to possess opinions labeled by the pollsters as ‘latent’ anti-Semitism. Germany is not an outlier, but mainstream.”

In Germany more than many countries in Europe, a majority remains determined to fight the ugliness in the fringes and the underworld. And Germany, despite disagreement with Israel’s settlement policy, remains a strong and reliable friend of the Jewish state.

Sadly, Gunter Grass has parted company with those Germans working to make the 21st century better than its predecessor.


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  • Jonathan D

    I’ll never forget watching The Daily Show with a French friend here in the US back in 2005. During one of Stewart’s bits, she turned to me and said “who is this Jewish comedian?” I was shocked – how could she possibly know in 3 minutes he was Jewish? This isn’t to minimize problems here in the US, but it was an interesting insight into the French mind.

  • WigWag

    “The anti-Semitic tide continues to rise across Europe, from France to Sweden to Hungary,” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Unfortunately this phenomena isn’t limited to Europe; anti-Semitism is increasing on the “progressive” left all over the world.

    Just as ex Waffen SS member Gunter Grass thinks tiny Israel is anxious to commit a nuclear holocaust against Iran, many American academics and pundits think that the tiny Jewish population in the United States (less than two percent of the American population) controls the press, the entertainment industry and the United States Congress.

    The bigots include Mearsheimer and Walt and their rantings about the “Israel Lobby” but they also include “mainstream” commentators like Andrew Sullivan (who accept lock, stock and barrel the M&W thesis) and Tom Friedman whose column recently advocated that Palestinians throw stones at Israelis (as long as they propose a final map for a resolution of the conflict at the same time.) In an earlier column, Friedman claimed that Congress was bought and paid for by Jews.

    The left is becoming increasingly unhinged. Just as people of goodwill need to cry foul when right wing bigots engage in anti-Semitic ravings, left wing bigots need to be called out as well. It is as important for respected pundits to criticize bigotry against Jews by American leftists as it is to criticize bigotry against Jews by European leftists.

    The fact that once respected institutions like the New York Times are being increasingly infiltrated by those who despise Jews makes it even more important for people of good will to raise their voices.

  • Jules

    The bigots include Mearsheimer and Walt and their rantings about the “Israel Lobby”

    They do not rant. They back up their arguments. Unlike the Al Sharptons and WigWags of the world who just shout “racist” or “anti-Semite” at anyone challenging their worldview.

  • Luke Lea

    Fortunately Grass is a fossil left over from the Nazi period. It is the younger Germans who count. I haven’t looked at that poll yet but the last one I linked to, conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, was full of loaded questions. E.,g., do Jews have too much financial power? (As opposed to too little? Seriously, this is putting words into people’s mouths.) Unless and until political leaders and candidates start spontaneously mouthing such sentiments in public speeches and make political gains as a consequence (or in spite of) I refuse to believe there is significant hatred of Jews in Germany.

    I’ll go further than that. Germany is the only country in Europe that has accepted responsibility for its anti-Semitic past and, as such, is the least anti-Semitic country in Europe. It sits better than France and Britain for example, to say nothing of Holland and Austria.

    But we must be careful about accusing whole nations of the sins of their grandfathers’. They may need to acknowledge and take responsibility for those sins because of the damage they continue to do in the world (as in the ongoingness of the Palestinian problem) but that is something else entirely.

    Watch out about a lot of loose name calling. It is not good for anybody.

  • Cunctator

    Nothing at all surprising about Grass and his latest literary work. Most lefties are consumed either by anti-semitism or, at the very least, affected by it. Almost all of those on the political left despise Israel. One need only look at the current US administration. Does anyone really believe Obama does not share many of the views Grass espoused, or the deeper assumptions identified by Joffe?

  • vanderleun

    “Sadly, Gunter Grass has parted company with those Germans working to make the 21st century better than its predecessor.”

    Yes, and as I am sure you know, he is not alone either in Germany or here or elsewhere and those numbers grow daily.

  • Luke Lea

    I’ll speculate that the fraction of the American Jewish community who believe there is significant anti-Semitism among gentiles of European descent is far larger than the fraction of the latter community who actually are anti-Semitic at present. I would like to see some figures — with surveys not based on loaded questions.

    Why is this important? Well, for one thing, it is itself a form of racial prejudice which breaks down trust and mutual respect in our common society. And when this prejudice actually finds expression in spoken or written language it breeds resentment and ill-will among those who are unfairly targeted and condemned. Right now I’d say anti-Gentilism is a bigger problem than anti-Semitism by a considerable margin, at least in the U.S.. I’d like to see some figures. I think the presidents of the leading Jewish organizations in America, including the ADL, ought to take this issue up with their gentile counterparts of their own choosing. It could be done privately.

  • Luke Lea

    “opinions labeled by the pollsters as ‘latent’ anti-Semitism.”

    That’s the key to these misleading conclusions. Reverse the situation and see how you feel.

  • Luke Lea

    Actually don’t reverse the situation.

  • Cory

    The Jewish people are the proverbial canary in the mind shaft. You can measure the level of tyranny in a society by the level of anti-semitism. For whatever reason, they go hand in hand.

    Even if the tyranny isn’t readily detectable, just like the gas that kills the canary, if the level of anti-semitism is going up, you can know with certainly that tyranny isn’t far behind.

  • Russ

    Live in Hungary for several years, and married there. One thing you have to be careful about, is that while there ARE fascists and anti-semites about (I had the pleasure of watching a Jewish guy respond to a “Hungary for the Hungarians” rant during the Craftsman’s Fair at the Buda Castle by breaking the drunken idiot’s nose, to the immense delight of the crowd), simply having the sort of social views which would make one a relatively mainstream Protestant or “garden variety mild social conservative” in the US typically gets one singled out as a fascist or at the least “dangerous nationalist type.” Similarly, the Roma integration issue is very real, since, and I’m going to be exceedingly politically-incorrect here, there ARE varna of the Roma who steadfastly refuse to integrate, period, and who DO regard the gajou as victims by definition. Petty crime by said groups frequently causes immense frustration. The tragedy for law-abiding Roma is that they are then disowned by the “problem children.” (There are quite a number of Roma who would prefer to be far more integrated, but face significant resistance from their own families in the process, in an eerie sort of echo of the situations faced by some American Indian groups). Fortunately, at least in the capital some of that has really begun to improve over the past decade (counter-intuitively, by legalizing prostitution in certain areas, the Hungarian gov’t made it MUCH easier for law-abiding Roma in the rest of the capital to integrate).

    Point blank, while Jobbik-style anti-semitism is an easy disease to diagnose, other “right-wing fascist” affairs are significantly more complicated than one gets from the sort of ten-thousand-foot-view-plus-PC-assumptions that recently got Fukuyama in trouble. Context and details count.

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