The Nazi teen and the occupation of Jerusalem

The Nazi teen and the occupation of Jerusalem

The German Nobel literature laureate Günter Grass’s latest poem “What Must Be Said” is hardly original in its stereotypical, anti-Israeli intellectual romanticism. It reminded me of Nicky Larkin, an Irish documentary filmmaker and once an anti-Israeli activist, who eventually recalled that: “An Irish artist is supposed to sign boycotts, wear a PLO scarf, and remonstrate loudly about the Occupation … Being anti-Israeli is supposed to be part of our Irish identity, the same way we are supposed to resent the English.” 

But there is a difference between Mr. Grass and Mr. Larkin: In 2006, Mr. Grass revealed that in his teens he had been a member of the Nazi Waffen SS. This is why, according to Israel’s Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, Mr. Grass has been declared persona non grata. “Someone who served under the Nazis should not be able to enter a state whose people they had advocated exterminating,” explained Mr Yishai, when last weekend he banned Mr. Grass from entry into Israel. 

But that’s hardly convincing. It is more likely that Mr. Grass has been declared persona non grata because his poem “a la former Mr. Larkin” accused Israel of being a threat to world peace. Otherwise, Mr. Grass would have been banned from entry into Israel back in 2006. 

This ban has put Israel in the small league of countries with the now-defunct East Germany and Burma, both of which also declared Mr. Grass persona non grata before. I cannot recall in what other category Israel could have joined East Germany and Burma. Anyone who is not (overtly or covertly) intellectually or religiously anti-Israeli could understand the hard feeling of hosting a former Nazi in Israel. But Mr. Grass the poet is not a Nazi today. And he is not being banned from entry because of what he did in his teens like millions of other German teens. If Israel considers Mr. Grass a Nazi today it should seek an international tribunal for the poet. 

So what’s the matter? Simple. The State of Israel, in the personality of Mr. Yishai, is behaving like the countries it criticizes of being undemocratic and intolerant. It is good to know that Israel has not issued a death fatwa for Mr. Grass, or that the Jews all around the world have not threatened to burn down shops selling Mr. Grass’s books. Yet the travel ban looks not only childish but also self-denigrating. 

But let’s go back to the Occupation. Hardly a day passes in the Islamic world (or in the western intellectual world) without people standing up against and decrying the occupation of “al-Quds” (otherwise known as Jerusalem). In this column I have often argued otherwise: A counter-occupation is no occupation.

Now, dear Islamists, I have a “witness” whom I guess you could hardly refute. Forget my words and listen to what Turkey’s top Muslim cleric, Professor Mehmet Görmez, had to say just last week: “After the Prophet Omar conquered al-Quds he was invited to pray at a church (since there were no mosques in Jerusalem).
But he politely refused because he was worried that the (conquering) Muslims could turn the church into a mosque after he prayed there.”

Now, read that line once again, or a thousand times if you wish to: “After the Prophet Omar conquered al-Quds…” And think about why there were no mosques in Jerusalem at the time of the conquest. Still no clue? Allow me to explain: Because Jerusalem was not a Muslim city. And now you claim it back because it is under “Jewish occupation!” 

The refusal to pray at the church was very noble of the Prophet Omar. I personally do not expect you, dear Islamists, to behave as virtuously and gallantly as the prophet, but at least you can do something easier: Stop fighting for a city that belonged to other faiths before your ancestors conquered it. And please recall my witness when you flood my inbox with more hate-mail tomorrow. Or is Professor Görmez, too, an infidel like me?