World and Nation

Germans’ anti-Israel whispers grow louder over poem

BERLIN — To judge by the outpouring of comments from politicians and writers and from the newspaper and magazine articles in response to the Nobel laureate Gunter Grass’ poem criticizing Israel’s aggressive posture toward Iran, it would appear that the public had resoundingly rejected his work.

But even a quick dip into the comments left by readers on various websites reveals quite another reality.

Grass has struck a nerve with the broader public, articulating frustrations with Israel here in Germany that are frequently expressed in private but rarely in public, where the discourse is checked by the lingering presence of the past. What might have remained at the family dinner table or the local bar a generation ago is today on full display, not only in Grass’ poem, but on Web forums and in Facebook groups.

One word has surfaced consistently in such discussions: “keule,” which means club or cudgel. The charge of anti-Semitism aimed at Israel’s critics — and in the case of Grass, by bringing up his past as a member of the Waffen-SS — is widely viewed as a blunt instrument that silences debate, and in the process prevents Grass from making a point about the dangers of a first strike by Israel against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

“Every time you speak out and say something that isn’t superpolitically correct there is a 99 percent chance that you are regarded as right wing,” said Moritz Eggert, a composer based in Munich. Eggert posted his own musical interpretation of Grass’ poem with simplified lyrics on YouTube. “Israel, I love you, but don’t attack Iran,” he sings.

Eggert said he was trying to skewer both sides in the debate. While he said he did not like Grass’ poem, “it’s embarrassing the way the intellectuals try to paint him in the worst light possible.”

Grass’ critics hail mostly from the cultural and political elite, while his support appears to be far more broadly based — even if Grass is not himself seen as the best spokesman for that view, given his own Nazi past.

“The published opinions are all coming from the usual suspects,” said Claus Stephan Schlangen, one of the people behind a Facebook group formed in support of Grass’ poem. “People just don’t believe what the media is selling anymore.”

The group’s page, which had more than 3,500 Facebook “likes” as of Thursday evening, shows a dove and Grass with his trademark pipe superimposed over the colors of the rainbow. “We say no to a war of aggression against Iran,” the text reads.