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Banning of author goes a step too far

Weekly Columnist

Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08

One of our few Middle Eastern allies has overstepped itself recently, once more begging the question of how far is too far before we reconsider our relationship with the nation. Israel’s interior minister has declared that German author Günter Grass would not be welcome in Israel following the publication of a poem entitled “What Must Be Done.” In the poem, the 1999 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature criticizes the policy of warmongering against any perceived threat or offense in Israel, and has incited international comparison between Israel and Iran. Needless to say, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not found this comparison favorable, especially considering the author’s admission that the bulk of the criticism was aimed not at the nation of Israel as a whole, but at the policies of the current leadership, including Netanyahu.

Outside of the international mudslinging, which is as productive as it ever will be, the controversy over the poem – which points to Israel’s militancy as a high-level threat to world peace as the nation has long considered and been in support of a preemptive, perhaps nuclear strike against Iran – opens the doors for a new discussion on how long can apologetic politics, and the blind eye that comes with them, be used before becoming dangerous to everyone. It is no secret that the bulk of American and European policy toward Israel has been framed in the context of apologizing for the Holocaust; Germany has taken this to the point where the German political administration has publically denounced Grass and his poem, though he has often been lauded as the author who reinvigorated and reinvented German literature. I’ve written before that there is a fine line between redressing the wrongs of the past and allowing wrongs to go unaddressed because we are afraid of the past. And at the heart of it, the entire world is afraid to criticize Israel. We created a homeland, with the idea of inspiring peace and facilitating a reclamation of heritage for a people who had everything taken from them brutally. Not even 100 years later, we are faced with what is quickly becoming a monster.

We are a nation that will criticize the entire Islamic Middle East because of human rights violations that start with the cultural segregation of women, and because of the dress codes that go along with it. When separate bus lines are employed in orthodox neighborhoods, or little girls are taunted and shamed on their journeys to and from school in Israel because of a cultural value, not a word of reproach is even whispered. Women are stoned, or ethnic groups are made to be less-than-human in other countries, we don’t even wait for war to be declared or consider sanctions – we send the troops and justify it later. But Palestinians have had neither national or international protection, nor any levy for implementation of universally declared human rights since Israel’s inception, and the world has conveniently overlooked this. We cringe in terror at the thought of Iran, or Pakistan, or any other nation that we do not directly approve of obtaining nuclear power or weapons. But our ally Israel has declared its intent to use the arsenal it already has – which it built with our aid – regardless of the possible consequences. And still it is almost a cardinal sin to think against that country.

The question that we as citizens of humanity need to ask ourselves is how far is too far? Years ago, the fat we placed on Salman Rushdie was considered an act of intellectual warfare by Iran, because he wrote a text that criticized a religious leadership that was supposed to be seen as infallible. Is not the banning of an author from another country for writing a poem that criticizes a behavior and philosophy that endangers the world a similar act? Granted, the poem is not really that great of a poem, but the message is still important and should not be silenced by a government that is slowly becoming the very image of the thing it supposedly stands against.

While the other hypocrisies of Israel have failed to cause policy-makers to be anything but reactive to the mention of Israel, I hope that this act can be a wake up call. Our relationship with Israel does not need to be terminated by any means, but we do need to seriously reevaluate how much leeway the nation is given, at a time when all nations should be working to bring more peace and a better life for all human beings, and not to their own nationalistic ends.  

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