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April 13, 2012

Gunter Grass and "Criticism" of Israel

It's hard to tell whether Tablet's Liel Leibovitz is upset with what he sees as hyperbolic, knee jerk reactions, or if he's more interested in advocating such hyperbole. Commenting on Israel's decision to bar of Gunter Grass from the country, he writes:

the obvious conclusion is that the state of Israel will from now on categorically ban anyone who criticizes it in any way from entry. Which means that I, too, should be banned, immediately, and General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of Joints Chief of Staff, and Coldplay, and anyone else who has ever publicly uttered any word that could be somehow construed as anything less than entirely and unquestioningly approving of Israel and every single one of its actions and policies.

Gunter Grass in 1944. To Israeli leaders, and under Israeli law, his past matters.
gunter grass in uniform.jpg

Never mind that he convincingly, though inadvertently, rebuts his own argument. Israel hasn't banned Leibovitz or Dempsey or Coldplay. There is no ban on Nicholas Kristof or Thomas Friedman. The country hasn't even banned Stephen Walt or John Mearsheimer. And these critics of Israel won't be barred from entry in the future. In other words, even in Liebovitz's own telling, his "obvious conclusion" is anything but obvious.

But never mind that. Whether or not a writer supports the decision to keep Grass out of the country, readers deserve to hear all of the germane facts. Liebovitz suggests the ban is either completely arbitrary or the result of a blanket punishment targeting all who won't walk in lockstep with Israel's government. But the decision, right or wrong, is neither of these. The Jerusalem Post, Ha'aretz and the Times of Israel have each reported that the decision was based on a Israeli law allowing the Interior Ministry to bar specifically people with past Nazi affiliations, and Grass, as he eventually admitted to the German people, was in a unit of the Waffen SS.

Leibovitz certainly isn't the only one who has omitted important points in order to cram this story into the "You can't get away with criticizing Israel" frame. In the New York Times, Nicholas Kulish writes that Grass was "making a point about the dangers of a first strike by Israel against Iran over its disputed nuclear program." He forgets to mention that, in Grass's telling, Israel's plans might involve "annihilating the Iranian people," or in other words, an Israeli-perpetrated holocaust.

Is this controversy about those who fail to "entirely and unquestioningly approv[e] of Israel and every single one of its actions and policies"? Is it about mere criticism of Israel? Or is it about an accusation, by a former Nazi, that crosses the line from criticism into demonization? Readers can decide. But they should be able to base their decision on all the relevant facts.

Posted by GI at April 13, 2012 10:42 AM


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