Gunter Grass Exposes Israel As a Nuclear Power that “Endangers” a Fragile World Peace

Fby James M. Wall

A stunning new poem by German novelist Gunter Grass, has “broken the silence” on Israel as a nuclear power.

Western journalists and politicians have long enforced that silence by unspoken and unwritten common agreement.

The silence was successfully imposed for two reasons: The Holocaust and the fear of being called anti-Semitic.

Gunter Grass (pictured above) has broken that silence with his poem, Was gesagt werden muss (What must be said).

Grass is a major figure in German literature. He speaks with considerable authority through his extensive and innovative writing. He is considered one of Germany’s major novelists.

The press release announcing his 1999 Nobel Prize for Literature begins:

When Günter Grass published The Tin Drum in 1959 it was as if German literature had been granted a new beginning after decades of linguistic and moral destruction.

Within the pages of this, his first novel, Grass recreated the lost world from which his creativity sprang, Danzig, his home town, as he remembered it from the years of his infancy before the catastrophe of war.

Here he comes to grips with the enormous task of reviewing contemporary history by recalling the disavowed and the forgotten: the victims, losers and lies that people wanted to forget because they had once believed in them.

In 1979, The Tin Drum reached a world audience through a film of the same title, by German Director Volker Schlöndorff. The novel, which was brilliantly reproduced in the film, was praised by the Nobel Committee because  of the way in which it:

Breaks the bounds of realism by having as its protagonist and narrator an infernal intelligence in the body of a three-year-old, a monster who overpowers the fellow human beings he approaches with the help of a toy drum.

The unforgettable Oskar Matzerath is an intellectual whose critical approach is childishness, a one-man carnival, dadaism in action in everyday German provincial life just when this small world becomes involved in the insanity of the great world surrounding it.

It is not too audacious to assume that The Tin Drum will become one of the enduring literary works of the 20th century.

Now, over a decade into the 21st century, Gunter Grass decides that Israel must be stopped from self-destruction before it is too late.

Through this deep concern, Grass wrote his poem, This Must Be Said,  breaking decades of silence. Grass, now 84, says in the poem that he wrote with his “last ink”.

The entire poem may be read, and should be read, in its entirety. Click here for an English translation, or scroll down to the Comment section for the full text of the poem.

Here, as an introduction, are the first three sections of the poem:

Why have I kept silent, silent for too long
over what is openly played out
in war games at the end of which we
the survivors are at best footnotes.

It’s that claim of a right to first strike
against those who under a loudmouth’s thumb
are pushed into organized cheering—
a strike to snuff out the Iranian people
on suspicion that under his influence
an atom bomb’s being built.

But why do I forbid myself
to name that other land in which
for years—although kept secret—
a usable nuclear capability has grown
beyond all control, because
no scrutiny is allowed.  .  .  . 

Later in the poem, Grass writes that the country with a nuclear arsenal that “has grown beyond all control, because no scrutiny is allowed”, is the modern state of Israel.

That lack of scrutiny of Israel’s nuclear arsenal has provided Israel with carte blanc to occupy Palestinian land, and to literally imprison the Palestinian people, all under the pretense of a need for the “security” of a nuclear armed Israel.

This same lack of scrutiny has also given Israel the freedom to function “behind the scenes” to shape the foreign policy of the West, a policy implemented by successive American governments trapped in the vise-like control of Israel’s two sacrosanct iron fists: The Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

How has Israel responded to Grass’ poem? It has followed their usual pattern, reacting with classic Israeli paranoid rhetoric.

First out of the box was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said Israel will not tolerate anyone with credibility and a public platform, who exposes the truth of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

Only he does not say it that way, for that would be an admission of the unsayable, that Israel does indeed have such an arsenal.

In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned German Nobel laureate Gunter Grass for his “shameful moral equivalence”.

“Gunter Grass’s shameful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran, a regime that denies the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel, says little about Israel and much about Mr. Grass,” Netanyahu said.

This reaction is the classic Israeli response when a cover story is exposed as false: Never deny, always attack and divert.

Netanyahu cannot deny the truth of  Grass’ poem, so he attacks the messenger, first by condemning him, and then declaring him persona non grata in Israel, a country which Grass says in his poem, is a country “to which I am and will remain attached”.

Grass also has his supporters. Jakob Augstein, a columnist for the leading German newspaper, Der Spiegel  writes:

The brief lines that Günter Grass has published under the title “What Must Be Said” will one day be seen as some of his most influential words. They mark a rupture.

It is this one sentence that we will not be able to ignore in the future: “The nuclear power Israel is endangering a world peace that is already fragile.”

It is a sentence that has triggered an outcry. Because it is true. Because it is a German, an author, a Nobel laureate who said it. Because it is Günter Grass who said it.

And therein lies the breach. And, for that, one should thank Grass. He has taken it upon himself to utter this sentence for all of us.

The New York Times reported the story entirely from Israel’s perspective. In the story on the poem, the Times ignored the truthfulness of the poem and focused instead on the “controversy” it stirred up.

Why should we expect anything different? It is the Times, after all, that has been a major player in the “protect Israel’s narrative” campaign.

We have seen before how Israel manipulates any story it deems a threat.

In 2009, the Goldstone Report revealed the details of Israel’s massive slaughter of citizens in Gaza, a three week assault carried out in the name of Israeli security.

In the initial report from a UN panel chaired by Judge Richard Goldstone an eminent South African jurist experienced in tackling war crimes cases and himself an avid Jewish Zionist, concluded “that Israel had committed multiple war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during its 2008-09 invasion.”

Did Israel deny the Goldstone Report? Of course not. The evidence was too overwhelming. Rather than confront the truth of Goldstone’s findings, Judge Goldstone was hauled off to South Africa, his native land, where he held personal meetings with rabbis there.

Soon, Judge Goldstone had second thoughts. He wrote a Washington Post op ed in which he famously said

“If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

The Palestine Chronicle examines further the aftermath:

Goldstone does not with any clarity explain what he means by this sentence. Paradoxically and shamefully for the judge, the more we know about the Gaza massacre, the more accurate the Goldstone Report appears – not less.

We may never know why Goldstone changed his position – it is certainly not the result of new revelations refuting the report’s validity, irrespective of what he implied in his article.

We know that he had been the subject of an international smear campaign of unprecedented dimensions and nastiness. Maybe the pressure was simply too much for him.

But even in this case, it is hard to understand why he caved in now. In fact, attempts to discredit the Goldstone Report themselves been been discredited over the past year.

Did Goldstone succumb to pressure or threats? No one knows.

What we do know for sure is that a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks has Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, saying that Israel was facing “three principal threats: Iran’s nuclear [programme], missile proliferation and the Goldstone Report.”

The Goldstone Report was the 2009-10 du jour “threat to Israel”.

Today the du jour “threat to Israel” is Gunter Grass and his poem, What Must be Said.

The threat is always there to Israel.  The threat changes as Netanyahu, or whoever governs Israel at the time, sees a new threat to Israel’s long-protected narrative of why Israel is never wrong.

Any sign that anyone is breaking ranks on the silence surrounding that  narrative, which has long included  development of a nuclear arsenal in Dimona, Israel, must suffer personal attacks.

Israel is all that matters to Israel, regardless of the consequences to others. Unfortunately, thanks to AIPAC and its army of strong-armed warriors assigned to control US government officials and church leaders, the silence is rarely broken in US domestic politics.

Three US Protestant denominations, the United Methodists, Presbyterian Church, and the Episcopal Church, in that order, will hold national decision-making conferences between April 24 and mid-July.

These denominational leaders will attend to church business, budgets, reports, and honoring their retirees, that sort of thing. This year each body will also take up the matter of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people. 

The United Methodists and Presbyterians will consider resolutions which are both the result of many years of conversation and study, and will then ask officials to agree to divesting church funds from three corporations which have refused church requests to stop providing products that enable the Occupation to continue.

The Episcopal Church is about five to eight years behind the United Methodists and Presbyterians.  All they are asking this time around is for Episcopalians to consider how Palestinians are suffering under Occupation. And of course, to celebrate the importance of Jewish/Christian relations.

Even that is too much for the Episcopalians, which seem thus far to be following the leadership of their Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who has encouraged her constituents to have conversations and break bread with their local Jewish neighbors.

What has rankled Episcopalians, however, is that in their mild resolution on Israel/Palestine, a special Episcopal version of a study book entitled Steadfast Hope, is recommended for local church study.

Steadfast Hope has something positive to say about the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) strategy. It does not call for adopting that strategy.  It simply suggests BDS  be studied.

For more on this discussion, see this recent posting from Wall Writings. I especially urge readers to scroll down for the follow-up comments.

I believe Gunter Grass, without knowing it, was speaking to all those gullible Protestants who still believe that the tactic of a nonviolent protest of divesting church funds from corporations that support the Occupation, is not good for Israel.

BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is also not a threat to the “fragile interfaith” relationship between Protestants and Jews.

Delegates to the upcoming church decision-making conferences should read Gunter Grass’ poem. He is speaking truth to you,  just as he is speaking truth to Israel. 

Like Sampson of old, Israel is agitating to have the US join with it to pull down those pillars and destroy huge sections of this planet in a nuclear holocaust.

Grass chose to break his own self-imposed silence because he believes Israel needs an “intervention”, a process whereby people who truly love their spiritual homeland, will persuade Israel that it is currently embarked on a suicidal course of action, harmful to itself and to others.

An “intervention” is designed to save that which we love.  At the moment, Israel is veering dangerously close to the Sampson Option.(See Seymour Hersh’s 1991 book of that name.

Grass does not want to see a nuclear-armed Israel destroy itself and threaten  further the already “fragile” world peace. 

Neither should we. A nonviolent step like BDS is the least we can do to play a role in Israel’s “intervention”.

Correction: Earlier versions of this posting described Grass as Jewish.  He is not. This error has been corrected in the version above.  I regret this error. JMW

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
This entry was posted in Episcopal Church, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Presbyterian Church, United Methodist Church. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Gunter Grass Exposes Israel As a Nuclear Power that “Endangers” a Fragile World Peace

  1. Patricia Pynchon says:

    Thanks for the information, otherwise I would not have known.Why is Israel hiding the truth from itself?. Everyone knows they have 200 nuclear bombs, (provided by the U.S., ? ) They must realize it is no secret?
    Why doesn’t everyone criticise the strange point of view on Israel’s part,: that a country with no nuclear bombs is a great threat to them, when they (Israel) have hundreds of bombs, and could decimate all the Arab countries in one day? Bravo the honest and truthful thinking of Gunther Grass, who obviously faces reality.

    Israel is the terror of the Middle East, but it does not or is not able to criticise itself and think rationally. Sad it is that our whole congress cannot think clearly either, or are they frightened of losing their pay from AIPAC? The whole problem is clear to most of us, Israel is the real threat to the Middle East, Why can’t Israel’s policy-makers see the reality and absurdity of its own self absorption? Why can it not see that they are a threat to its neighbors, and not vice-verse?.

  2. wallwritings says:

    Following is a translation by Michael Keefer and Nica Mintz of Günter Grass’s “Was gesagt werden muss”.

    By Günter Grass

    Why have I kept silent, silent for too long
    over what is openly played out
    in war games at the end of which we
    the survivors are at best footnotes.

    It’s that claim of a right to first strike
    against those who under a loudmouth’s thumb
    are pushed into organized cheering—
    a strike to snuff out the Iranian people
    on suspicion that under his influence
    an atom bomb’s being built.

    But why do I forbid myself
    to name that other land in which
    for years—although kept secret—
    a usable nuclear capability has grown
    beyond all control, because
    no scrutiny is allowed.

    The universal silence around this fact,
    under which my own silence lay,
    I feel now as a heavy lie,
    a strong constraint, which to dismiss
    courts forceful punishment:
    the verdict of “Antisemitism” is well known.

    But now, when my own country,
    guilty of primal and unequalled crimes
    for which time and again it must be tasked—
    once again, in pure commerce,
    though with quick lips we declare it
    reparations, wants to send
    Israel yet another submarine—
    one whose speciality is to deliver
    warheads capable of ending all life
    where the existence of even one
    nuclear weapon remains unproven,
    but where suspicion serves for proof—
    now I say what must be said.

    But why was I silent for so long?
    Because I thought my origin,
    marked with an ineradicable stain,
    forbade mention of this fact
    as definite truth about Israel, a country
    to which I am and will remain attached.

    Why is it only now I say,
    in old age, with my last drop of ink,
    that Israel’s nuclear power endangers
    an already fragile world peace?
    Because what by tomorrow might be
    too late, must be spoken now,
    and because we—as Germans, already
    burdened enough—could become
    enablers of a crime, foreseeable and therefore
    not to be eradicated
    with any of the usual excuses.

    And admittedly: I’m silent no more
    because I’ve had it with the West’s hypocrisy
    —and one can hope that many others too
    may free themselves from silence,
    challenge the instigator of known danger
    to abstain from violence,
    and at the same time demand
    a permanent and unrestrained control
    of Israel’s atomic power
    and Iranian nuclear plants
    by an international authority
    accepted by both governments.

    Only thus can one give help
    to Israelis and Palestinians—still more,
    all the peoples, neighbour-enemies
    living in this region occupied by madness
    —and finally, to ourselves as well.

    “Was gesagt werden muss” published in Süddeutschen Zeitung (4 April 2012)

    Translation by Michael Keefer and Nica Mintz

  3. Pingback: Günter Grass Exposes Israel As a Nuclear Power that “Endangers” a Fragile World Peace | My Catbird Seat

  4. Rev. Bob Hannum says:

    We were bouncing along in the Negev Desert in 1984 (I think several years prior to Mordechai Vanunu’s blowing the whistle on Israel’s nuclear arsenal),when the young Israeli guide pointed over to a building in the distance, surrounded by a chain link fence, and happily announced, “That’s Dimona, where Israel makes nuclear bombs.” How many other tourists heard this announcement? So, Vanunu was placed in solitary confinement for 11 years and 7 more years in regular prison. He is now out, but can’t work and can’t leave the country. He still speaks to groups who will listen, about the situation, although he is forbidden to so so.

    We and all the nations who have these weapons have created a terribly dangerous world for our grandchildren. Never mind Iran and North Korea. The danger is in front of our eyes. Time to dismantle them all! When will our folks in Congress stop diddling around with trivia and begin to deal with the real concerns which plague us all?

  5. Andrea Whitmore says:

    Gunter Grass, Rick Steves–the high-profile people who are openly rebuking Israel are increasing in number day by day, as more and more become aware of what’s really happening there. Will the United Methodist Church have the gumption to put its money where its mouth is, finally? If it does, it could change the political winds, make history, “transform the world” as it says it wants to do.

  6. gen katz says:

    Write to the NYTimes and call them on it. Let them know that people are watching and want more impartial news.

  7. Renate Hanauer says:

    Guenter Grass is of course right. He is, however, not a Jewish author.(Ed note: the initial posting identified Grass as a Jew. This was an error, which has been corrected.)

    There are German Jews who have been critical of Israeli policies. There is also a small critical organization called ‘Juedische Stimme fuer gerechten Frieden in Nahost (Jewish Voice for Peace).’ Some of their members were involved of sending a boat to Gaza. The magazine Der Semit has also been very crtical of Israeli policies as well.

    Interestingly enough I found that their website has been blocked when I went to see what they have said about the Grass controiversy. I have no idea whether this happened after the Grass poem was published on Wednesday.Of course Germany has the equivalent of the major American Jewish organizations – the Zentralrat der Judn in Deutschland – which always takes Israel’s side and is in fact a conduit for Israeli propaganda.

  8. William Gepford says:

    Thank you, Jim, for another open-minded critique on who has and doesn’t have nuclear weapons. Israel’s possession of such weapons has been common knowledge for at least 20 years. Israel’s problem is a moral one. She believes that lying about the facts will save her, when in fact lying about the facts will bring her own destruction, regardless of America’s biased support. If one really loves Israel, one will love the truth, not an ideology which one has been taught to believe. Loving an ideology will only lead to destruction. The Good Book says that one should rejoice with the truth.

    Bill Gepford

  9. Pingback: Gunter Grass Exposes Israel As a Nuclear Power that “Endangers” a Fragile World Peace « roger hollander

  10. Samia Khoury says:

    Israel never stops blaming Germans and the world for being silent about what was going on during the Nazi Regime. Yet it is amazing that when a German who got the courage to expose another truth, he is condemned for that. This double standard of dealing with Israel cannot continue to be justified because of the atrocities of the Nazis. Two wrongs do not make a right. So if those those political and church powers genuinely care for the welfare of Israel, peace and security in the region they would have the courage to call a spade a spade, and not worry about the status of their position.

  11. Pingback: Günter Grass rails against a crime foretold « quintessentialruminations

  12. Fred Bisharat says:

    It is very interesting how the whole world has forgotten about the fifty four million Christians, Muslims, Buddhist etc. who gave their lives to bring World War II to an end.
    The purpose of government is to uphold laws that defend life, liberty and property. A society based on the proper conception of law would be orderly and prosperous in upholding those laws. Unfortunately some people prefer plunder over production. It is unfortunate when some legislators turn to
    plunder. The result is legal plunder. That explains how possible the stealth of the nation of Palestine was. Thieves will always arm themselves to the hilt and point their fingers to their next victim.
    Gunter Grass dared to speak out in his old age out of love and wisdom to save humanity. His words have fallen on younger leaders of the world who continue with their mule-like obstinacy, and their burgeoning egoes without regard to the rest of humanity.The world will continue to cry out for leaders like Eisenhower, De Gaul and Churchill

  13. Zusya says:

    Gunther Grass is not only not Jewish, he was a member of the Waffen SS, the elite Nazi guard, during WWII. Grass hid this fact — lied about it — for sixty years in order the protect his reputation. Any opinions of his are compromised by his lifelong history of lying and hypocrisy.

  14. Pingback: Günter Grass Exposes IsraHell As a Nuclear Power that “Endangers” a Fragile World Peace | SHOAH

  15. Pingback: Does Israel Interfere in US Elections? « Wallwritings

  16. Rhone says:

    Thank you James for speaking truth to power.

    I have just read Susan Abulhawa’s important article published by the Electronic Intifada. It undergirds your posting.

    I believe, like you said, that supporting BDS is the absolute VERY LEAST we could do. We also have to support the END THE OCCUPATION and OCCUPY AIPAC movements here. Your piece on Grass speaks to the power of art to really challenge the ways we think about imperialism. A powerful play produced locally here MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE speaks to the power of art in raising awareness about the colonization of Palestinians. -RF.

  17. Pingback: Does Israel Interfere in US Elections? | #US #Israel #Occupy #OWS | Occupied Palestine | فلسطين

Comments are closed.