RSS Feeds
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil,    but because of the people who don't do anything about it    
Occupation magazine - Commentary

Home page  back Print  Send To friend

Red Rag Weekly Column: Gunter Grass and Vanunu
By: Gideon Spiro

3 October 2012 (English translation posted 9 October 2012)

Gunter Grass and Mordechai Vanunu

The German writer and Nobel Prize laureate Gunter Grass greatly angered Israelis a few months ago when he published the poem “What has to be said”, in which he pointed out that a nuclear-armed Israel constitutes a danger to the peace of the world. And he also criticized the government of Germany, which has provided Israel with submarines that can carry nuclear missiles. As is usual in such cases, a chorus arose in Israel under the orchestration of ministers of the right-wing government and their allies in the written and the electronic media that accused him of anti-Semitism. Interior Minister Eli Yishai, a racist and a homophobe, exhibited the “patriotism” that is the typical refuge of the scoundrel when he declared Gunter Grass a “persona non grata” and barred him from entering Israel. Unlike the Interior Minister and the other supporters of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, proponents of peace and opponents of nuclear weapons welcomed the poem and are happy that an author of renown is their ally in the campaign against nuclear weapons.

In December 2010 I was in Germany as a guest at the annual ceremony of the
Berlin-based International League for Human Rights to award the Carl von Ossietzky human rights medal. Mordechai Vanunu was also supposed to be there, because he had been chosen to receive the prize. Gunter Grass was also a past recipient of the prize. Vanunu was absent from the ceremony because the government of Israel had barred him from leaving the country, so the ceremony became a rally of protest against the restrictions imposed on Vanunu, which affect his basic human rights. I was among the speakers, who included the Nobel Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, Professor Gadi Algazi and the Chairwoman of the League, Professor Fanny Michaela Reisin. After the publication of the poem “What has to be said”, I sent to Gunter Grass the text of my presentation at the Carl Von Ossietzky ceremony, which was dedicated to the nuclear issue and the figure of Mordechai Vanunu, along with my congratulations on the poem (My speech at the ceremony was later published in my column). [1] I thought Gunter Grass should know that there are Israelis who support his positions and who are revolted by the manipulative way the Israeli government uses the Holocaust and its labelling of people as “anti-Semites” in order to silence critics of Israeli policies.

To my joy Gunter Grass did not submit to the Israeli terror that aimed at silencing him. At age 84, he proved to be still alive and kicking. And now he has again challenged the Israeli consensus with his publication of a poem that warmly praises Mordechai Vanunu. To Grass, Vanunu is a righteous man and a hero, of whom he writes in his new poem: “only heroes like this are needed in a world that mumbles words of peace while preparing for destruction”. He draws a parallel between Vanunu and Joseph from the Book of Genesis, who was thrown into a cistern by his brothers. Grass calls for the exposure of military secrets in states where weapons of mass destruction are produced, and to that I say: bravo, Gunter! The poem will be included in a new compilation of Grass’ works which will be published on time for the international book fair in Frankfurt (10-14 October 2012), which is the largest in the world. This time, as last time, most people in Israel will oppose Grass and a minority committed to human rights will support him. I am among that minority.

Mordechai Vanunu very much appreciates Grass’ tribute. It is a great honour to him to be counted among people of such calibre. But what preoccupies him now is a very practical question: “Will the Minister of the Interior now declare that I am a persona non grata as he did for Grass, and let me leave the country?” – asks Vanunu.

Grass’ high praise for Vanunu gave me great satisfaction. In spirit it is similar to words I myself wrote and which won me no friends. Here are the concluding words of my article “The government of Israel announces”, which was published in the book Vanunu and the Bomb (in Hebrew), published by the Israeli Committee for Mordechai Vanunu and for a Middle East Free of Atomic, Biological and Chemical Weapons, 1998 (editors: Giora Neuman and Ehud Ein Gil, graphic design by Aviva Ein Gil), eight years before his release from prison:

“The name of Mordechai Vanunu, however much it is anathema to the State of Israel, will be inscribed in gold letters in the history of humanity as one of the most important campaigners against nuclear weapons. If we manage to avoid a nuclear holocaust, then long after Israel’s current nuclear junkies have disappeared into the black hole of the universe, Mordechai Vanunu’s story will be transmitted from generation to generation as a symbol of sacrifice and resolute determination to see a sane and healthy world free of weapons of mass destruction. I believe that the State of Israel, if it survives the nuclear delusions of its leaders and manages to make the transition to an era of freedom and humanism, will award the Israel Prize – if belatedly – to Mordechai Vanunu.”

What did he win?

Gilad Shalit, the soldier who was in Hamas captivity in Gaza for five years, has been in great demand since he was released. Not only in Israel, but abroad as well. A recent example is the invitation he received from the Barcelona football team to attend the match with Real Madrid – the Classico, as this match between the two best teams in Spain is called. How did Barcelona, which is considered the best football team in the world today, get the idea to invite an Israeli soldier to a game? The simple answer: the campaign for his release spanned the entire globe, and the name Gilad Shalit became known in many countries. Add into the mix good local Jews with connections to the team and it’s a done deal.

In Israel Shalit was seen as a soldier who was kidnapped, but I always thought that he should have been seen as a soldier who was captured, for only if he was a captive combatant did he have rights, such as periodical visits from the Red Cross. The Hamas government (and the government of Israel) did not comply with the requirements of international law, but to our joy it kept Shalit alive, even during the orgy of killing and destruction that was Operation Cast Lead. Keeping him alive rendered possible the agreement for an exchange of prisoners.

The invitation to Gilad Shalit to attend that important game provoked anger in the Palestinian camp. Who is this Shalit to receive such an honour? He’s an Israeli soldier who sat in his tank on the edge of the Gaza Strip. His unit fired shells at civilian communities in the Strip, destroying property and killing innocent people. That is the Palestinian claim. After a flood of protest, the Barcelona people panicked and for the sake of balance hastened to invite Mahmoud al-Sarsak, a player on the Palestinian national football team, who was released not long ago from Israeli administrative detention after a hunger strike. But the surprised Sarsak declined the invitation. He was not willing to sit next the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, for there is no symmetry between the occupier and the occupied. He will be happy to accept the invitation if Shalit does not sit in the stadium.

And indeed, it really does seem to me that this whole song-and-dance around Shalit has exceeded the bounds of reasonableness and good taste. Yes, we were all happy when he went back home, thank goodness he returned healthy, but from there to the invitation to Barcelona and a meeting with the President of France and suchlike things – to me that’s just going too far. The Palestinian footballer is right: we’re talking here about an army of occupation, which rules over another people and maintains a regime of apartheid, and about a soldier who served in that army and was willing to obey its orders, even beyond the Green Line. Not a great honour. There are thousands of Palestinians who are imprisoned in Israel (against international law) for their political activities against the Occupation, not one of whom has had enjoyed a micro-fraction of the support that this soldier from the Israeli army of occupation has received. If I were a person who had influence in Barcelona, I would withdraw the invitation, with the addition of the following message: enough Occupation and oppression: free the political prisoners. The time has come at long last to establish a democratic state. You are not a villa in the jungle; you are part of the jungle. Forty-five years is more than enough. We will be happy to invite Israelis when there is peace.

A nuclear clown

When Netanyahu concluded his speech at the UN he received much praise from sycophants who lauded his excellent speech and fell over themselves in praise of his gimmicky presentation. And many of the journalists in Israel’s three television channels, which broadcast the speech live, were also unstinting in their praise. Netanyahu’s command of English sometimes leads people astray, and they are dazzled by the packaging without paying attention to the content.

With the passage of time Netanyahu’s speech has been put in its correct perspective. It was the speech of a nuclear clown who tried to draw a red line in front of the Iranian nuke using a primitive picture of a bomb. And moreover, Netanyahu’s explanations turned out to contain serious errors. Obama’s flesh must have crawled at Netanyahu’s pose as a schoolteacher talking to children with learning disabilities, if he watched the speech. He had already suffered once before on live television from Netanyahu’s tendency to lecture on the whole history of the Jews from the Creation of the World to today, like a teacher in front of a classroom. Barack must have thanked the good Lord that he was in Washington and not in the UN building in New York, where it would have been difficult to avoid meeting with Netanyahu.

Not satisfied with an infantile and error-filled presentation, Netanyahu also gave a speech that was full of lies and deceit. He presented Israel as a bastion of democracy, equality, academic freedom, tolerance and more, as against an obscurantist Iranian regime controlled by religious fundamentalism. What he said about Iran is correct, of course, but was he accurate regarding Israel?

His presentation of Israel as a paragon of democracy was seriously fraudulent. He did not tell his audience about the Occupation and the denial of freedoms and human rights to millions of Palestinians; he did not mention the illegal settlement enterprise built on the theft of Palestinian lands, or the burning of mosques and the scrawling of blasphemous slogans on churches and monasteries, or the denial of freedom of religion to the majority of Palestinians, who are not permitted to enter the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, or the discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel, or how Israel has turned into a torture empire which exports its methods to some of the world’s worst despotic regimes, or the violent persecution of Jews for Jesus, or the growing power of Jewish religious fundamentalism, which is also represented in his government, or the shameful treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers, or the growth of racism and Islamophobia in Israel that has found expression in a number of lynchings in which Jews beat young Palestinians nearly to death, or the erosion academic freedom that his government has initiated, particularly the governmental effort to close the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba because some of its lecturers are leftists who criticize Israel’s policy, or that Israel has nuclear biological and chemical weapons and is thus encouraging an arms race in weapons of mass destruction. He made extensive use of the Holocaust but did not mention that over a third of the Holocaust survivors who live in Israel are living under conditions of extreme hardship and withering poverty, even though the government has received millions on their account, which it channels towards other targets, such as the settlements, instead of the survivors themselves; he did not mention that 50% of Israeli youth believe that Arab citizens should be divested of the right to vote, or that in Israel a Jewish man or woman cannot marry his or her non-Jewish partner, or that Israel has the largest gap between rich and poor of all the OECD countries, or that in Israel it is impossible to appoint a judge without the prior approval of the Israel Security Agency, or the regime of discrimination that exists between Jews and Arabs at Israel’s airport, such that whereas Arabs undergo humiliating searches, Jews undergo a superficial process of a few questions, or that the State is shrugging off its duties towards its citizens and by privatizing itself, or that lands of the quasi-governmental Jewish National Fund cannot be sold to non-Jews in general and to Arabs in particular, or that the State, with the help of the police, is currently literally stealing the lands of the Bedouin on which they have lived for hundreds of years, and destroying their houses and handing the lands over to Jews. The mere expulsion of the Bedouin from their lands that occurred immediately after the creation of the State was not enough for this government.

Israel is a handicapped democracy. The Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have no rights at all. In the State of Israel within the Green Line the Arab citizens have a few more rights, and Jews have the most rights of all; although there too there are sub-groups, such as for example the Ethiopian Jews, who suffer from the racism of the White Jews. Netanyahu didn’t mention that either.
True, in Israel within the Green Line the situation is better than in Iran, but Netanyahu’s Israel is gradually closing the gap. The despotism in the State of the Settlers in the Occupied Territories resembles the one that prevails in Iran in many respects. There, the Ayatollahs rule; the State of the Settlers is ruled by Ayatollahs who are also known as the “Yesha Rabbis”. [2]

Netanyahu postponed the critical date for military action from autumn 2012 to spring or summer 2013. Until then Netanyahu will continue to spare no effort to draw the US into war with Iran. So far Obama has refused. Netanyahu is signalling willingness to act alone if the US persists in its refusal.

One would have to be a fool or a megalomaniac to propose that a country with 7 million people in a small territory should declare war on a country like Iran, which has about 80 million people and possesses a territory larger than England, Germany and France put together and which possesses missiles that can reach every place in Israel.

And like Cato the Elder, I can only keep repeating the solution that will prevent a nuclear holocaust: the divestiture of the Middle East of ABC weapons (Atomic, Biological and Chemical). When no one has such weapons, the danger of their use will no longer exist.

Translator’s notes


2. “Yesha” is a Hebrew acronym formed from the first letters of the Hebrew words for Judea, Samaria and Gaza. It also means “salvation” – a reminder, whether deliberate or not, of the fact that many of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank believe that Jewish colonization of the West Bank will hasten the coming of the Messiah.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent
Links to the latest articles in this section

The US and nuclear programs in the Middle East
How can Israel, Palestine return to a two-state solution?
A matter of concrete debate