Anti-Semitism: Israel’s arbitrary use of the term makes it meaningless – Antara Dev Sen

Antara Dev Sen“Pampering Israel, the land of the Jews, seems to be the way to atone for the sins of the Holocaust. The horrific injustice done to Jews by the Nazis, which can never be condoned, has led to a dangerous politics of victim-hood. The Jew is the prototypical victim, so the blessed land of the Jews, Israel, is above criticism. … Maybe we need to … take a good look at reality. Criticising the policies of Israel is not about hating Jews, it is not anti-Semitism. Fobbing off legitimate criticism of Israel by labelling it anti-Semitic is a shrewd ploy to censor disapproval.” – Antara Dev Sen

Gunter Grass“This is the time for the people who want to save me … to get to know themselves, through me.” That was little Oskar in The Tin Drum. Now, his comment fits his creator Gunter Grass just as well. Being the voice of conscience for Germany, if not for all of humanity in a violent age, has never been easy for Grass.

He has been repeatedly attacked and abused by lesser mortals who wished to shut out the moral sense he was banging on about much like Oskar on his little drum. And his poem What Must Be Said published last week has unleashed a volley of vicious personal attacks, labelling him an anti-Semite, an enemy of the Jews, a neo-Nazi apart from also being a senile old fool. Here is the poem, translated by Heather Horn for The Atlantic:

What Must Be Said

Why do I stay silent, conceal for too long
What clearly is and has been
Practiced in war games, at the end of which we as survivors
Are at best footnotes.

It is the alleged right to first strike
That could annihilate the Iranian people–
Enslaved by a loud-mouth
And guided to organized jubilation–
Because in their territory,
It is suspected, a bomb is being built.

Yet why do I forbid myself
To name that other country
In which, for years, even if secretly,
There has been a growing nuclear potential at hand
But beyond control, because no inspection is available?

The universal concealment of these facts,
To which my silence subordinated itself,
I sense as incriminating lies
And force–the punishment is promised
As soon as it is ignored;
The verdict of “anti-Semitism” is familiar.

Now, though, because in my country
Which from time to time has sought and confronted
Its very own crime
That is without compare
In turn on a purely commercial basis, if also
With nimble lips calling it a reparation, declares
A further U-boat should be delivered to Israel,
Whose specialty consists of guiding all-destroying warheads to where the existence
Of a single atomic bomb is unproven,
But as a fear wishes to be conclusive,
I say what must be said.

Why though have I stayed silent until now?
Because I thought my origin,
Afflicted by a stain never to be expunged
Kept the state of Israel, to which I am bound
And wish to stay bound,
From accepting this fact as pronounced truth.

Why do I say only now,
Aged and with my last ink,
That the nuclear power of Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace?
Because it must be said
What even tomorrow may be too late to say;
Also because we–as Germans burdened enough–
Could be the suppliers to a crime
That is foreseeable, wherefore our complicity
Could not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.

And granted: I am silent no longer
Because I am tired of the hypocrisy
Of the West; in addition to which it is to be hoped
That this will free many from silence,
That they may prompt the perpetrator of the recognized 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.

Only this way are all, the Israelis and Palestinians,
Even more, all people, that in this
Region occupied by mania
Live cheek by jowl among enemies,
And also us, to be helped.

If we did not know who the poet was, the poem would read as a rather impassioned — though not particularly beautiful — appeal for peace in a tense nuke-powered region, for “Israelis and Palestinians” and for “all people in this region occupied by mania”. It would be an anti-war poem triggered by the declaration of Germany that it would supply yet another nuclear-capable submarine to Israel, which has been threatening to attack Iran. Because it is widely known, though not officially confirmed, that Israel has a nuke, a nuclear war is not impossible.

The poem would seem to be a desperate, if somewhat naïve, plea for transparency in weapons inspection, for peace, and a warning to Germany that it could be complicit in another crime against humanity. Coming from an ordinary poet, this would be a friendly, anti-war poem worrying about the aggressive posturing of the current government of “the state of Israel, to which I am bound”.

Benjamin NetanyahuBut Gunter Grass is not just an ordinary poet. The poem got him instantly branded as an “anti-Semite”, as he had predicted, and an immoral impostor who had revealed his true Nazi colours. Of course Grass was banned from Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out against his “shameful” but “not surprising” attack on Jews, the Israeli embassy in Berlin said Grass was just following the anti-Semitic tradition of blood libel. In short, Israel was hopping mad.

Which is understandable. What is surprising is the response of the “liberal” West. Hate-mongers are drumming up disgust for the author across Europe and America, but it seems to be worst in his own land, Germany, which has revered Grass for ages. The octogenarian Nobel laureate and Germany’s best known contemporary author is suddenly being attacked fiercely by his own people. Even the Social Democrats, who have gained enormously from Grass’s support for more than half a century, announced that the writer was no longer welcome in their midst.

Because pampering Israel, the land of the Jews, seems to be the way to atone for the sins of the Holocaust. The horrific injustice done to Jews by the Nazis, which can never be condoned, has led to a dangerous politics of victim-hood. The Jew is the prototypical victim, so the blessed land of the Jews, Israel, is above criticism. And because Germany is still reeling from the guilt of the Holocaust, it cannot get itself to think clearly about anything relating to Israel.

Dolphin submarine gifted to IsraelTo make matters worse, Grass had been conscripted into Hitler’s Waffen SS when he was 17, just before the war ended. He has been living with the guilt for almost 70 years. It took him 60 years to even reveal this, and he was pilloried for it even then. Why hadn’t he said so earlier, screamed his critics, he should immediately return his Nobel Prize. Well, it takes time to reveal one’s shameful secrets. Even if one was just a kid who was drafted and had no choice. Besides, as the current mudslinging proves once more, if Grass had indeed revealed this earlier, he would never have been allowed to become the literary stalwart that he is, let alone get the Nobel. Being a coward is not a crime. Nor is being smart. But making false accusations of Nazism against one who has been the biggest critic of Nazis for decades is criminal.

Maybe we need to pull away the wool of political correctness and take a good look at reality. Criticising the policies of Israel is not about hating Jews, it is not anti-Semitism. Fobbing off legitimate criticism of Israel by labelling it anti-Semitic is a shrewd ploy to censor disapproval. Anyone who has read Grass knows he is not anti-Semitic. One only hopes that the poem will actually end the silence and start the debate that Grass wishes for. – Deccan Chronicle, 14 April 2012

» Antara Dev Sen is Editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at

9 Responses

  1. I am immensely pleased to hear that the christers are taking serious note of Sita Ramji and that his name gets into their voluminous dissertations. He was a great scholar and linguist and author (half a dozen novels in Hindi; he spoke Hindi, English, Bengali, Urdu, Persian, Sanskrit and some Pali, Arabic and Greek). He always maintained we should tell the truth about ourselves as well as about our enemies. This is more difficult to do than it seems. I told him he and Ram Swarup were way ahead of their time and that a day would come when their work would be recognised.

    I think we may agree more than we disagree. So lets leave this thread here. I have work to do and it is most difficult with our 8 hour power cuts and poor Internet connections.


  2. I agree of course, that the Christians had a head start in monotheistic conquest. However, Muhammad needs to be given more credit. Though Muhammad was certainly a copy cat, he was uniquely perverse in that he stripped the Jewish and Christian dogmas of any positive qualities to create a refined doctrine of hate and terror that allowed him to go from the village idiot to the sole ruler of the Arabian Peninsula in just a decade, and his followers to conquer an empire stretching from India to Spain in a few more decades. Even bigots like Paul couldn’t get the ball rolling that fast. As such, antisemitism isn’t a new idea in the Arab world, nor did Jews have it that easy under the caliphs. As Dr. Andrew Bostom points out in his book “The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism,” Muslims have hated Jews since the Prophet himself. Jews who weren’t massacred or forced to convert to Islam were subjected to the status of dhimmis, or “protected people” who were allowed to practice their faith so long as they paid the jizya poll tax and subjected themselves to other humiliations, like being forced to wear distinguishing clothing, being barred from riding horses, being forced to build houses smaller than those of Muslims, and not being allowed to repair damage to their religious buildings.

    I am well aware that Moses didn’t actually exist; according to some, scholars like Richard Elliott Friedman, the stories of mass slaughter in the Bible are the exaggerations of a humiliated people living under the Persian yoke. That Bible actually says, for instance, that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, even though the same text mentions his death, would seem to support this idea.

    As far as Kuruvachira is concerned, recall that he has actually written not one, but several essays, a couple specifically attacking Sita Ram Goel. In addition to the attacks on the usual suspects, like Golwalkar and Savarkar, he has also attacked Swami Vivekananda, Swamy Dayananda Saraswati of Arya Samaj, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak as being the intellectual inspiration for the Hindutva movement. He has also claimed that Hinduism is an intolerant proselytizing, religion, and has even considered promoting Sanskrit as part of the bogey of “saffronization.” The reason that Kuruvachira, Dayal, and others have a problem with Hindutva is because a proud Hindu India would spell an and to their soul harvesting campaign and leave millions in “spiritual darkness”.

    I wouldn’t be worried about your lack of official academic qualifications. That Kuruvachira actually praises Roberto de Nobili, the lying evangelical fraud speaks volumes about his commitment to academic honesty and objective research. Also, I would think you’d be interested in his essays given that he attacks you personally for your work.

    I am very well aware that the VoI crowd aren’t associated with the Sangh, an that is why I admire what all of you have done. The Sangh’s anti-intellectualism is well known, which is what makes it useless, while Shri Goel’s work has the potential to have a much larger impact in the long run.


  3. I would like to say that considering the nature of the subject, Ms Sen has treated it exceptionally well and this should be appreciated.


  4. Actually, it was the Xians not Mohammed who made monotheism into a world-conquering ideology. Mohammed was a copy-cat with few original ideas. It was also the Xians who invented and took anti-Semitism to its inglorious heights. Mohammed aside, the Jews had it pretty good under the caliphates and anti-Semitism isn’t associated with Arabs until recently.

    Moses is condemned utterly because he is the one who went public with the monotheistic ideology and also was the first (after Akhenaton) to use it to justify force.

    You must know of course that Moses didn’t really exist? Hebrew University sent their archaeologists into the Sinai to find some evidence of the Exodus. They didn’t find a scrap. They have concluded that there may not have been a Moses at all. The bible writers may have invented him as a peg to hang their monotheistic ideology on. Seems to be the old story: none of it is historically true but the people who promote it all believe it MUST BE historically true or they are in big trouble.

    Hindus have been told for centuries that their gods are mythological meaning not real. But more and more evidence comes up for the historical reality of Sriram and Srikrishna. But it doesn’t matter. The reality of the Hindu gods does not depend on their historicity, where as if poor Yesu didn’t historically exist (and he seems not to have) then the poor Xian isn’t saved even a little bit.

    Yes, we know about the Don Bosco fellows. They hate us because we were the first to expose them and their salvation scam. Hindus know something is terribly wrong with Xianity, but they don’t know how to voice it and this was exploited by the Church. When Voice of India entered the scene, Hindus suddenly had a voice and intellectuals to defend them and, more importantly, to inform them of the facts of Xianity and Islam. This has shocked the Xians. Now they are making a noise and because we are ruled at the moment by a Catholic lady they feel secure enough to shoot off their mouths, which they usually only did outside of India to collect money in Germany and Denmark. But as Gautier says, the Italian lady won’t be with us forever …

    I have just looked at Jose Kuruvachira’s essay. Rather boring but then I am not academic. They are terrified of the term “Hindutva” which we never even think about. They have made it into a swear word! It only means “Hinduness”. India is a Hindu civilisation (whether they like it or not it is a historical fact). What is wrong in recognising that? Or in being Hindu?

    Just to be clear, neither SRG or RS or any of the others were part of the Sangh Parivar. Arun Shourie, great man that he is, sits in the Raja Sabha. He was part of the BJP government at one point. Be assured we were and are all independent thinkers. Hindu nationalists avoid me like the plague because I am a sadhu and they would be obliged to show respect, which they don’t want to show a white man. But they are all very comfortable with atheists like KE or intellectual Vedic scholars like DF.

    Jai Shri Ram!


  5. Grass is voicing an unfounded fear that has no support even among the far right in Israel or the United States. Israel gains nothing by nuking Iran that it would not gain by bombing Iran’s nuclear reactors, and it has a whole lot more to lose, something that even the densest evangelical understands. It is precisely for these kinds of wild speculations that allow Israel to throw around the antisemitism card; while legitimate criticism cannot be labeled antisemitic without censure of the sort used in this article, absurd criticism can be seen as agenda driven and therefore antisemitic.

    Israel certainly does milk the antisemitism card unjustifiably, although, given what they’ve been through, it’s rather unrealistic to expect them to drop the mindset that they’ve used successfully for years to fight against real anti-antisemitism. Plus, given Muhammad’s own hatred of the Jews, there is indeed much actual antisemitism in the Arab world, whether it is Hamas telling children that Jews cause disease or Egypt blaming the Mossad for making their women infertile through shampoo.

    As far as Muhammad vs the Jews is Medina is concerned, there was little stopping the Jews from carrying out their own campaign of mass butchery across the Arabian Peninsula if that was what they wanted. After all, they had progressed significantly from their goat herding days under Moses; they were wealthy traders, artisans, and agriculturalists by this point and had more than enough scriptural justification for the idea. And therein lies the difference between Moses and Muhammad that makes the latter more dangerous. Moses, genocidal, child butchering sex slaver though he was, only wanted Israel. Thus, the Jews have never harbored global ambitions, and have spent most of their time and resources trying to reclaim a tiny and worthless slice of desert.

    Muhammad, in contrast, never limited his expansionism to Arabia but was calling for jihad on his deathbed. Moses butchered people but, being a virulent racist, never added conquered people to his chosen race (except for the sex slaves). Muhammad had no such qualms and utilized forcible conversion all the time. Moses was simply too narrow minded to create a world conquering dogma. Muhammad broadened it, thereby making it amenable to the concept of world conquest to suit his narcissism. His specific strain of insanity was what made his frenzied cult the stain on the world that it is today, leaving bodies and destruction in its wake, showing no sign of stopping. The Jews, in contrast, see Moses’ campaigns as just that: history, and even the most fanatical among them are not calling for a repeat performance. As Shri Koenraad Elst points out in his “Saffron Swastika”

    “Though there is no dearth of cranky Jewish fundamentalists, I don’t see them preparing any repeat performance. Joshua is just history. When you quote verses full of hatred an violence from the Quran, it is likewise typically countered that “the Quran is already an old book”, which need not dictate present – day Muslim behaviour, but there are crucial differences. Firstly, every injunction in the Quran is deemed valid till the end of time; in that respect, its Jewish counterpart is not the Bible as a whole, but the 613commandments that make up the Laws of Moses. The Biblical narrative of the conquest the conquest of Canaan is sacred history, deemed to have happened in the past, but not necessarily a model for future behaviour.”


  6. Grass is only voicing everybody’s fears. Israel is a law unto itself and does not even listen to its paymaster America. It cannot be trusted. Just ask any US president.

    By the way this post is about the anti-semitism curse Israelis dump on the heads of people they don’t like or don’t agree with or otherwise want to accuse and malign. They have made a mistake accusing Grass; everybody knows and respects Grass, and listens to him too.

    Yes, Mohammed did kill off the Jews of Medina because they wouldn’t recognise him as a prophet. Not very politically astute of the Jews. Had they agreed to Mohammed’s offer, Judaism would be a world-conquering religion today. Moses would have been proud! Everybody ground down under the heel of Yahwah!

    My view of Halakhah is that it is the worse of the two religious laws. Mohammed’s whole enterprise was modelled on the Judaism he knew in Arabia and the Christianity he encountered in Palmyra. I hardly think he was more psychologically troubled than his idol Moses.


  7. With all due respect, all my tangents were merely responses to yours. Recall that my initial post only dealt with the alleged threat level of Israel’s nukes, a very relevant question given that it is Grass’ implying that Israel will nuke Iran that has generated much of the opprobrium that he has received. At any rate, as I have mentioned, not even the nuttiest of the evangelicals in the US has said that Israel ought to nuke Iran; the worst they want is a repeat of what Israel did in Syria and Iraq.

    As far as Shariah vs Halakha is concerned, the former is far worse given that it incorporates Muhammad’s own unique brand of hate and his psychological disorders. The very fact that it was Muhammad who annihilated Arabia’s Jews, rather than the other way around, is testament to the wild barbarity of Islam. While Shariah is the foundation of many Islamic states around the world, Halakha in Israel is just the basis for personal laws, much in the same way India has different personal laws for different communities. Though Israel is far from secular, it can hardly be termed a theocracy given that its religious authorities, radical and otherwise, have no formal power in government. They have influence certainly, but religious authorities have had influence over every society that has ever existed.


  8. Israel’s nukes are dangerous because they don’t come under any international controls. And if you think Israel wouldn’t nuke Iran, then you don’t know Israel and its Evangelical sponsors in the US very well.

    But the point of this article is Israel’s arbitrary use of the term “Anti-Semite” for those whom they disagree with (of which this writer was once a victim too), not about her nukes. It is quite legitimate to protest anybody’s nukes. Israel’s over reaction to Gunter Grass’s poem itself shows them to be fanatics of the worst kind.

    Israel has been dining out on the Holocaust for years. Everybody is tired of it. Their treatment of the Palestinians is unacceptable and has to change if they want to keep their friends.

    There is a saying, “Those to whom evil is done, do evil to others.” Israel having suffered at the hands of Christian Europe for centuries, is now causing unprecedented suffering to the original inhabitants of Palestine.

    I could go on. But talking to you is a waste of time because you have an agenda, no knowledge of history, and no interest in getting at the truth. No more space for you because you don’t stick to the point.

    You sort of got the history right. The invading Hebrew goat-herders under Joshua initiated the first holocaust in history with the destruction of Jericho. They would go on to decimate Canaan. What is called Israel-Palestine today in fact belongs to the Canaanites. But they have been disappeared in the name of one god-ism. Certainly Moses must be the most wicked man in history, with his violent imposition of Akhenaton’s one god-ism on the Hebrew tribes.

    Monotheism is a curse on mankind. It is the cause of untold human suffering which continues till today. The fact that India has survived Islamic one god-ism is a wonder. But didn’t Mohammed have a Jewish rabbi as a teacher? And isn’t Shariah just a toned down version of Halakhah religious law?

    And what is the role Halakhah law plays in Israel’s “democracy” today?

    The Iranians are wrong and so are the Israelis. Both are theocratic states and impervious to reason. But at this moment in time, it is the Israelis who are the more dangerous to India. The fallout of their bombing spree will poison the whole of North India.

    You are in the US. So what do you care about our problems with our mad neighbours?


  9. How exactly are Israel’s nukes a threat to world peace? Israel isn’t threatening to nuke Iran, (or anyone else, for that matter) only bomb it to prevent it from getting nukes. Israel recognizes Iran’s right to exist, though the gesture is not returned. It isn’t Israel that peddles anti-Semitic forgeries like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It isn’t Israel that denies to Holocaust. It isn’t Israel that believes in the return of the Hidden Imam the coming of an apocalypse at that time. Just which regime is the nuttiest here?


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