- Kuwait Times Extra
BERLIN: German Nobel literature laureate Gunter Grass touched off a firestorm of protest yesterday with a poem accusing Israel of plotting Iran’s annihilation and threatening world peace. The 84-year-old longtime leftist activist wrote in “What must be said” that he worried Israel “could wipe out the Iranian people” with a “first strike” due to the threat it sees in Tehran’s disputed nuclear program. “Why do I only say now, aged and with my last ink: the atomic power Israel is endangering the already fragile world peace?” reads the poem, which appeared in the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung yesterday.
Grass answers that Nazi Germany’s “incomparable” crimes against Jews and his own fear of accusations of anti-Semitism kept him from openly criticising Israel. But now, “tomorrow could already be too late” and Germany could become a “supplier to a crime”, Grass wrote, referring to a deal sealed last month for Berlin to sell Israel a sixth nuclear-capable Dolphin-class submarine. “I admit: I will be silent no longer, because I am sick of the hypocrisy of the West”.
Israel slammed the poem, which also sparked a fevered debate on German-language news and culture websites. “What must be said is that it belongs to European tradition to accuse the Jews of ritual murder before the Passover celebration,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli embassy in Berlin, in a statement. “It used to be Christian children whose blood the Jews used to make matza (unleavened bread), today it is the Iranian people that the Jewish state purportedly wants to wipe out.” Nahshon said Israel was “the only state in the world whose right to exist is publicly doubted”. “We want to live in peace with our neighbours in the region. And we are not prepared to assume the role that Gunter Grass assigns us in the German people’s process of coming to terms with its history.”
The Israel director of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Efraim Zuroff, accused Grass of making himself the spokesman “for anti-Semitic Germans sick of the Holocaust and seeking to rid themselves of any responsibility for its aftermath”. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle released a statement without mentioning Grass by name in which he warned against “making light of the dangers of the Iranian nuclear program”. “Iran obtaining nuclear weapons is not only a threat to Israel and the entire region but also a danger for the world’s security architecture,” he said, underlining Germany’s efforts to prevent Iran from having nuclear arms.
Grass, author of the renowned anti-war novel “The Tin Drum”, shocked his admirers in 2006 when he admitted, six decades after World War II, that he had been a member of the notorious Waffen SS – a revelation that severely undermined his until then substantial moral authority in Germany. Grass said he long kept silent on Israel’s own nuclear program because his country committed “crimes that are without comparison”, but he has come to see that silence as a “burdensome lie and a coercion” whose disregard carries a punishment – “the verdict ‘anti-Semitism’ is commonly used”.
Henryk M Broder, a prominent German Jewish columnist, accused Grass in light of his poem of having become “the prototype of the educated anti-Semite”. “Grass has always had a problem with Jews but he has never articulated it as clearly as with this ‘poem’,” Broder wrote in the daily Die Welt. The country’s most influential media commentators were unanimous in their criticism, saying Grass had offered up a one-sided portrayal of Israel as the aggressor and Iran as a victim of a mortal threat. “Never before in the history of the republic has a prominent intellectual waged a battle against Israel in such a cliched way,” wrote the website of news weekly Der Spiegel. Only Wolfgang Gehrcke of the far-left Die Linke party defended Grass in public, saying he had the “courage” to express “what is widely kept silent”.
Israel, the sole if undeclared nuclear power in the Middle East, has said it is keeping all options open for responding to Iran’s program which it says is aimed at securing atomic weapons, posing an existential threat to the Jewish state. Iran, whose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad frequently questions Israel’s right to exist, has consistently denied that its sensitive nuclear work is aimed at making weapons.
Separately, Israel’s government yesterday published tenders for 1,121 new settler homes as it faced settler anger over its decision to evict Israeli families from a disputed home in the Palestinian city of Hebron. Documents published on the Israeli housing ministry website showed the government had issued tenders for 872 new homes in Har Homa, a contentious settlement neighbourhood in the southern part of Arab east Jerusalem. Another 180 are to be built in Givat Zeev, just to the north of Jerusalem in the West Bank, while the remaining 69 are to be built in Katzrin in the occupied Golan Heights, the documents showed.
Contacted by AFP, a ministry spokesman dismissed the tenders as “nothing new,” but settlement activists said it was the first time the offers had been made public. “Yesterday there were no tenders for Har Homa C, today there are tenders for Har Homa C,” said Daniel Seidemann, director of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an Israeli NGO which tracks developments in east Jerusalem. “If the ministry is suggesting they are not new tenders, they are living in a parallel universe,” he said, saying most of the tenders there were for construction in Har Homa C, a new part of the settlement neighbourhood. “This is not a planning stage. This is implementation. The contractors who have won the tenders will be selected after 60 days and then work can begin.”
Lior Amihai, who works with the settlement watch unit at Peace Now, said the construction in east Jerusalem would significantly expand Har Homa. “It’s a real expansion of the settlement,” he told AFP. “It severs Bethlehem from east Jerusalem and it will be very harmful.” Seidemann and Amihai said the tenders were part of 2,000 new settler homes 1,650 of them in east Jerusalem – that Israel announced as a punitive measure after the Palestinians won membership at the UN cultural organisation, UNESCO.
The tenders were published as Israeli forces evicted a group of settlers from a home in the flashpoint Old City of Hebron in the southern West Bank, nearly a week after they moved into the property. The settlers said they had purchased the second-floor apartment legally from its Palestinian owner, but the military said they had failed to obtain the required approval for the purchase and had ordered them out by Tuesday afternoon. The settlers ignored the deadline and reports suggested a deal had been agreed delaying the eviction, but it went ahead largely without incident yesterday afternoon.
Hebron’s settler community, which numbers around 600 people in a city with 190,000 Palestinian residents, reacted angrily to the eviction, with one resident accusing the government of “treating them like the enemy”. “Netanyahu is following in Pharaoh’s footsteps. We wants to throw us out of our land,” the settler community’s spokesman David Wilder told AFP. “We will do everything to return home.”
But anti-settlement group Peace Now welcomed the eviction, with its director Yaariv Oppenheimer telling army radio he was “pleased that, at least in this case, they didn’t go along with the settlers”. Israel’s settlements have proved a key stumbling block in talks with the Palestinians, and new units were swiftly condemned by Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib. “This is an additional violation of Palestinian rights and international law and contributes the destruction of the chances of a two-state solution,” he said, calling on the international community to “hold Israel accountable.”
Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since September 2010, and show no signs of resuming despite a series of “exploratory” meetings between envoys from both sides in Jordan earlier this year. In the absence of talks, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has prepared a letter addressed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly laying out the parameters for resuming talks.
Officials on both sides said yesterday that the letter would be delivered to Netanyahu during a meeting with Palestinian representatives including prime minister Salam Fayyad and negotiator Saeb Erakat. The meeting is expected to take place after the Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins this Friday and ends on April 13, and Netanyahu is expected to respond with his own message to Abbas, officials said. – Agencies
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