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.