09 April 2012

The Iranian nuclear quandary deserves better analysis than the teenage poetry of Günter Grass.

My interest in and knowledge of English literature is very, very low. (I would read more storybooks but it really cuts into my finding-out-about-real-stuff time). So you can bet your bottom deutschmark that my awareness of German plays, poems and novels is non-existent. Until last week that is, and the emergence of Günter Grass, "Germany's most famous living author" (© every broadsheet critic), in his new role as a commentator on Middle East affairs.

Herr Grass, it seems, feels as though his current body of work will be insufficient to secure his legacy as a great writer. So, inspired by his country's sale to Israel of a submarine with the potential to carry nukes, he's penned a breezy little rhyme about comparative nuclear capabilities in the Middle East. It includes the lines:
Appeal to the perpetrator of the recognizable danger - To renounce violence and - Likewise insist - That an unhindered and permanent control - Of the Israeli nuclear potential - And the Iranian nuclear sites - Be authorized through an international agency - By the governments of both countries.
Maybe it loses something in the translation.

(He called it "What Must Be Said", by the way. I picture him brattishly stomping his feet and running away from home after he'd finished it).

Glib and idiotic as his ode is, there is one line that has sparked international controversy:
It is the alleged right to the first strike - That could annihilate the Iranian people
Yep. While Classy Grassy describes the Holocaust-denying Iranian President (who has expressed at least a passing interest in seeing the Israeli "regime" wiped from the pages of history) as a "loud-mouth" (that Ahmadi-Nejad, eh! What is he like?!), he depicts Israel as a genocidal threat to Iran.

What he's doing, of course, is what so much of the Pretend Left do in their approach to the Middle East conflict: a) wilfully misunderstand and exagerrate the awful but resolvable conflict between Israel and Palestine (over three very specific issues; and b) deliberately confuse that with the existential threats to Israel in the Broader Middle East And North Africa.

The Nobel Laureate then goes on to promote two other fallacies, common on the Pretend Left over Israel/Palestine.

First, he portrays himself as courageous for criticising Israel. As Nick Cohen points out:
...on the British and much of the European left, the difficulty is not urging on right-thinking left-leaning people until they find the sheer bloody guts needed to criticise Israel, it is trying to persuade them to say a bad word about any other country.
Second, he predicts that he will be bombarded with accusations of anti-Semitism for criticising Israel. It is now an unquestioned assertion on the Left that Zionists systematically and reflexively cry "anti-Semite" at anyone questioning Israel. And I have grown old and grey asking and waiting for examples of anyone serious describing genuine criticism of Israel as "anti-Semitic". We used to joke in my family about anything negative happening being anti-Semitic. Portion of chips from the local takeaway a little smaller than usual? Must be an anti-semitic server. Someone scored against the team my Dad and I supported? Clearly a case of latent neo-Nazism on the part of the striker. Washing machine breaks down? Obviously, a judaeophobic plumbing system. To be sure, there are some individuals, particularly of the older generation, who see anti-Semitism where there is none, but the idea that this Woody Allen-ish paranoia really plays a role in debates over the Middle East is a canard.

It is a straw man deployed almost immediately by the Pretend Left to undermine anyone who challenges them or expresses concern that criticism of "Zionists" all too regularly resembles traditionally anti-Jewish ideas about undeserved wealth, malignant influence and child-killing (cf. Baroness Tonge).

This is how self-obsessed Western campaigns over Israel/Palestine have become, with the so-called defenders of Palestinian rights, spending more time portraying themselves as victims than promoting those with whom they are claiming solidarity.*

In Grass's case, a German Jewish writer has now described him as the "prototype of the educated anti-Semite". But this is in reference to his World War II record as a volunteer in the Waffen-SS. Oh. Did I not mention that? Yes. Grass was, voluntarily, in the Nazis' military elite. Awk. Ward.

The expected false question (see above) has been raised on the Guardian letters page over this:
Is it no longer possible to criticise Israel as a nation without being accused of being antisemitic?
Of course it is possible (see above, again). But former membership of the Waffen-SS might raise a question mark or two over the whole feelings towards Jews thing, no? Perhaps it shouldn't, true. For who amongst us is not a very different person to the human being we were in young adulthood? But if you're going to lionise someone as "exposing the hypocrisy of Israel" can you honestly not do a little better than a former Waffen-SS volunteer churning out teenage poetry?

Also coming to Grass's and Iran's defence on that Guardian letters page, against the "machinations of the Israeli state" (oooh, scaaaarrreeeee) is Tim Llewellyn (former BBC Middle East correspondent with an aversion to Jews who have anglo-saxon names) and a woman who thinks Mossad targetted her husband for his tedious Levant-themed poetry. (Though to be fair, Warwick University's Robert Fine gets his brilliant deconstruction of the Grass controversy in first).

This is not merely irritating. It distracts from the real debate that needs to be had over Iran's nuclear plans and the excruciating existential dilemma into which it places Israel.

Unfortunately, Israel's decision to ban Grass has just made matters worse. It is the wrong decision, both morally and strategically (as are all such bannings and boycotts). That said, at least ordinary Israelis and Palestinians will be spared his lectures and readings (I mean, aren't these people suffering enough?).

The good news is that, outside of the narcissistic waxings of the Pretend Left, there is some really good analysis going on. I'd recommend starting with Wahied Wahdat-Hagh's game theory take on the Iranian approach to negotiations. Followed by Shalom Lappin's reasoning as to why an Israeli first strike is not the solution.

You may also want to consider how much more useful the considered thoughts of an Iranian and an Israeli are, compared to those in the West, like Günter Grass, whose temper tantrums drown out any sense, progressive ideas and true debate.

*I have a standing offer of a crisp tenner to anyone who gives an example of somebody serious describing genuine criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. No doubt, my ideas of "serious" and "genuine" may differ from yours but let me know if you have any ideas.

No comments:

Post a Comment