Ban­ning him is a big er­ror

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News -

A NA­TION that ab­hors boy­cotts should not cast the first ban. Is­rael has made some bad cul­tural moves down the years but none is po­ten­tially as dam­ag­ing as the point­less decision to deny en­try to Gunter Grass.

Grass is one of the few epochal writ­ers alive, a novelist who changed his peo­ple’s per­cep­tion of it­self and helped the world to achieve a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the hor­rors of the 20th cen­tury. From The Tin Drum (1959), which presents a boy’s-eye view of the Nazi pe­riod, to Crab­walk (2002), bridging end-of-war to fall-of-wall, Grass has con­sis­tently chal­lenged the po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive by pre­sent­ing mas­sive events from an in­di­vid­ual per­spec­tive. He is, by any def­i­ni­tion, an im­por­tant writer.

Last week, at the age of 84, he pub- lished a poem that crit­i­cised the state of Is­rael and Ger­man pol­icy to­wards it.

When a great novelist turns to verse, it is usu­ally a sign of fail­ing pow­ers and the world kindly turns a blind eye, as it did with the late rants of Harold Pinter. Grass, though, is too big to ig­nore. Ger­man news­pa­pers de­nounced his poem as an­ti­semitic, re­mind­ing their readers that Grass — like the Pope — was once a teenage sol­dier in the Waf­fen-ss.

Grass went on TV to de­fend him­self, ar­gu­ing that his poem was an at­tack on the Ne­tanyahu gov­ern­ment rather than on Is­rael. That gov­ern­ment, through in­te­rior min­is­ter Eli Yishai, then banned him from the Holy Land.

The decision un­der­mines Is­rael’s free-speech prin­ci­ples as well as the free­dom of its artists to carry their mes­sage abroad. Pro-pal writ­ers and artists will soon boy­cott Is­rael “in sol­i­dar­ity with Grass”. Those who de­fend the Is­rael Phil­har­monic and Habima in London have been lamed by the Grass ban. Ne­tanyahu and Yishai have just ac­cel­er­ated Is­rael’s cul­tural iso­la­tion — and for no good rea­son.

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