The ‘Truth’ About the Jews

A response to the Günter Grass’ poem, “What Must be Said” on 4 April, 2012

Opinion | Vienna Review | June 2012

Anti-Semitism warning! Günter Grass is no isolated case. The world always reacts with outrage when Israel has the audacity to step out of its historically assigned role of victim. And once again the reversal of the classic Perpetrator-Victim relationship, this time from Grass. In his poem "What Must be Said", the Nobel Prize laureate alleges that the State of Israel, with a "first strike," wants to "obliterate" the "enslaved" Iranian people.

This has little to do with the facts. In reality, Israel is planning no sort of (nuclear) first strike against the Iranian people, and certainly has no plans to obliterate them. Far more likely is some kind of non-nuclear strike against Iran’s Israel-targeted nuclear program. Those are the facts, but that’s not what this is about, if Israel is being presented as perpetrator and Iran as the victim. And which is endangering the "in any case fragile world peace" is self evident, at least to Mr. Grass: Israel, who else?

It is no coincidence that in just these weeks, two books worth reading have come on the market that take up anti-Semitism as their theme. Forget Auschwitz, by Henryk Broder (Knaus-Verlag); and The Great Renunciation, by Maximilian Gottschlich (Czernin Verlag). Broder offers a remarkable psychological explanation for the transfer of guilt that (not only by Grass) is placed at the feet of the Israelis. Motto: We (Germans and Austrians) may have done nothing at the time to stop the genocide of the Jews. But we’re making up for it, in that today (with courageous things like City Council Resolutions), we are blocking the Palestinian genocide. That way we kill two birds with one stone: We ease our consciences and succeed in relativising the victim status of the Jews.

That no genocide is taking place in Palestine and that the crimes of the Nazis against the Jews don’t even begin to compare to the policies of the Israelis toward the Palestinians, is one of the tedious facts that doesn’t disturb the valiant perpetrator-victim inverters. Gottschlich takes a different approach but with similar results: It is not in the attitudes of the anti Semites that you find anti-Semitism but among the Jews themselves.

A similar comparison can be made between the State of Israel, who doesn’t like to shrug it off when Palestinian rockets land in their cities, and Iran, whose president wants to destroy Israel, and who is gerry-rigging a nuclear bomb. In fact, it is Israel and its politics that are the focus of so much criticism, so that is hard not to suspect some sort of anti-Semitic reflex at work. As when about two years ago, a ship of the Israeli military attacked the so-called "Peace-Flotilla to Gaza" and outraged protest rained down from across the globe. Even the Vienna City Council, which usually handles prosaic things like raising tolls on the canals, expressed its outrage in a unanimous Resolution of Protest.

The world is now waiting with bated breath for a similar resolution by the Vienna City Council against the genocide of the Tamils in the course of the Civil War in Sri Lanka. Or against the oppression in Chechnia, North Korea and Belarus. Or against the situations in China or Cuba. Or against the carnage of the Syrian regime against the Syrian people. Or against the medieval penal code in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Or against repression of women in Afghanistan.

However: This sort of resolutions doesn’t just happen. Resolutions of this kind come about only when Israel has the audacity to step out of its historically assigned role of victim.  And thus (according to the domestic boulevard press) the rockets that Hamas fires on Israel are reduced to bad-boy pranks, while according to the opinion of the same commentators, any Israeli reprisal endangers world peace.

Even a harmless establishment like the Tel-Aviv-Beach on the bank of Vienna’s Danube Canal, sets off a reaction as reflexive as it is irate.

Here’s a wager: If there were a Pjongjang or a Havana Beach, a visit there would be seen as proof of worldly and completely politically correct bobo behaviour.

As I said: It is hard not to suspect a latent anti-Semitism behind this sentiment. And when Günter Grass gives his poem the title, "What Must be Said", he is also using, consciously or unconsciously, the reflex of anti-Semitism. Because the mantra since 1945 was, that unfortunately, in this country, one may "not tell the truth". Above all, not about the Jews.

Now, once again, one can.


Andreas Koller is Vienna Bureau Chief  for Domestic Politics and Deputy Editor in Chief of the Salzburger Nachrichten, where this article originally appeared on 10 April. It appears here with permission of the author. A translation of Günter Grass’ poem ran in this column in TVR May 2012 edition.

See also TVR Editor-in-Chief Dardis McNamee's commentary "What Must (and Must Not) Be Said" from May 2012 TVR

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