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Israeli Historian Tom Segev: Grass 'Is Still Thinking About His SS Silence'

In the past, Israeli journalist and historian Tom Segev has defended Günter Grass from claims that he tried to portray Germans as victims in World War II. But following the publication of Grass's Israel-critical poem this week, Segev argues the German author is driven more by his silence over his SS past than concerns about the future of humanity.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What was your first impression when you read Günter Grass's poem?

Segev: That Günter Grass is more concerned about his own silence than, as he claims, the future of humanity. He's acting as if he is saying something that nobody else has said. I find it a little pathetic when he writes "my own silence." I believe he is still thinking about his SS silence.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You're referring to the fact that Grass first revealed the fact that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS in his 2006 autobiography "Peeling the Onion". But what he means this time is another silence: the silence about Israel's nuclear policy.

Segev: But this silence doesn't exist. The whole world is talking about it -- even in Israel. That's why my second reaction to the poem was that Günter Grass has no clue about Iran, nuclear weapons or strategy. He's acting as if he had a conversation yesterday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu -- or with both.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is being discussed in Israel about the possibility of an attack on Iran?

Segev: Former Mossad director Meir Dagan, for example, shares the same opinion as Günter Grass. He is also opposed to an Israeli attack on Iran. He talks about it almost every day. There is a very lively discussion about this issue in Israel.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Grass also names a reason for his silence: the threat of being accused of anti-Semitism.

Segev: Meir Dagan has never been accused by anyone in Israel of being an anti-Semite. And it has been a long time since people in Germany were not able to criticize Israel -- even if some in the Israeli government might regret that fact. Grass's argumentation is very apolitical. If Dagan were to publish a poem, I would find it just as embarrassing as when Grass publishes a nuclear analysis. I don't think one can take it very seriously. I would have preferred it if he had saved his "last ink," as he puts it, for a beautiful novel.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Grass writes that the Iranian people are at risk of being annihilated by a nuclear strike.

Segev: I do not understand at all how he came up with this idea. He is placing Israel and Iran on the same level. But the difference is that Israel, in contrast to Iran, has never declared that it wants to wipe some country off the map, whereas Iran promises day in, day out, that it wants to eliminate Israel. So what is this stuff about the annihilation of the Iranian people supposed to mean?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you saying that Grass is twisting the facts?

Segev: So far, the talk has only been of targeted Israeli strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities -- not a nuclear attack against the entire country.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It wasn't so long ago that you interviewed Günter Grass for an Israeli newspaper. You later defended him when he was accused of equating the dead German Wehrmacht soldiers with those killed in the Holocaust.

Segev: The whole scandal was based on a misunderstanding. Grass never compared the Nazi crimes to German suffering. He is truly a great writer, but being a great writer doesn't mean that he also understands nuclear strategy. Besides, the problem cannot just be limited to Israel: A nuclear Iran would be dangerous for the entire world. Incidentally, I personally believe that most Israelis would prefer to see the US, rather than Israel, take action against Iran. And it is not as if there is incitement against Iran in Israel. There is even a peace campaign on Facebook. President Shimon Peres even greeted the Iranian people on television on the occasion of the Persian new year. There is in no way enmity towards the Iranian people. Nevertheless, in Israel there is still a kind of fear of (another) Holocaust. That is all much more serious than the question of whether Günter Grass should remain silent or not.

Interview conducted by Sebastian Hammelehle.

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© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2012
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About Tom Segev
  • dapd
    Tom Segev, 67, is one of Israel's most-prominent journalists. His books have been published in many languages around the world. In Germany, he is best known for his work, "The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust," published in 1995. Segev lives in Jerusalem.


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