restating the widely held assumption that Israel has nuclear weapons and alleging its eagerness to attack Iran is a threat to world peace. Not much of a poem, more of an opinion piece, and sloppy, with its odd claim that an Israeli strike on nuclear sites could “annihilate the Iranian people”. But then, why not turn opinion pieces into poems? They seem to be more effective that way: many have written opinion pieces saying what Mr Grass said but none of them got a response like the one he got when Israel’s minister of the interior, Eli Yishai barred him from entering the country. “If Günter Grass wants to continue to distribute his false and distorted works,” said Mr Yishai “I suggest he do so from Iran, where he’ll find an appreciative audience.”
The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz called Mr Yishai’s action “hysteria”. “He doesn’t even detect the irony in his words,” the paper wrote in an editorial. “Because it’s precisely his decision not to let Grass enter Israel because of a poem he wrote that is characteristic of dark regimes like those in Iran or North Korea.”
The Israeli government makes it harder and harder to support the country while criticising its policies.
In America, Peter Beinart calls for a boycott of goods produced in Jewish settlements on the West Bank as a last-ditch effort to save the two-state solution and hence the Zionist dream of an Israel both Jewish and democratic. For this the Jewish establishment organisations revile him. He tells Terry Gross: those who think the boycott cannot work please, give me another suggestion for drawing this line.
But Gideon Levy, in the pages of Ha’aretz declares it is already too late: the two-state solution is dead. There are too many settlers, and only a fantasist could believe Israel will ever have the will to evict them. The remaining peace organisations, like B’Tzelem and Gush Shalom are heroic, but no more than “twitching” remnants. Yet even Mr Levy shies away from the conclusion: that if the two-state solution is dead the moral agenda shifts to a struggle for full Israeli citizenship, with voting rights, for every Palestinian. In other words, civil war, as far as the eye can see. It is a solution as impossible as any other.
My poem is at least as crummy as Günter Grass’s. But it will be harder for Israel to declare me a persona non grata because I’m Jewish. This sort of encapsulates the point. The contradiction is between the state’s democratic character and its ethnic one. Every state has internal contradictions; human beings are not formulas, and Israel’s tension between democratic equality and Jewish character is not necessarily fatal to either. But the Israeli government keeps doing its best to make it so. They are turning the world away from them. Fixated on the spectre of Iranian nukes, they can’t see what’s happening to them. Not that anyone ever does. We focus on technological threats, but it’s about allegiance. The existential threat is in the hearts and minds of allies and constituents, in the allegiance or indifference we win or lose through the persuasiveness of the claims we make to the world, and to ourselves. Persuasiveness and truth are not synonymous but in the long run, they tend to converge.