Gunter Grass: Israel’s response to poem akin to dictatorship

German literary giant Gunter Grass said Israel’s decision to bar him entry following publication of his controversial poem resembles the behavior of a dictatorship.

Writing in the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Grass said the decision puts Israel in the company of Communist-ruled East Germany and junta-ruled Myanmar—the only two regimes that ever have barred him entry.

Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared the Nobel Prize-winning writer persona non grata this week after Grass published a short poem that suggested that Israel’s saber-rattling on Iran was a greater threat to world peace than the prospect of a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic.

“It’s the alleged right to a first strike that could destroy an Iranian people,” Grass wrote in his poem. “Why only now, grown old, and with what ink remains, do I say: Israel’s atomic power endangers an already fragile world peace?”

After the poem caused a firestorm of criticism in Israel and Germany, Grass said he should have phrased the poem differently to make it clear that the current Israeli government was his target, not Israel as a whole.

Hamas celebrates one year in office

British boycott moves reveal anti-Israel bias

The utter hypocrisy of the British National Union of Journalists, which recently voted to boycott only Israel, has now become evident in the face of the silence over the recent move by Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez to suppress dissent by the media in his leftist regime.

General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, too, has now imposed massive press censorship. In many of the other hard-left favored countries – Cuba, China, Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe – suppression of the press is routine, and imprisonment of journalists is common.

But there is not a peep about these countries from the British National Union of Journalists, who seem to admire tyranny and condemn democracy and openness.

Only Israel, which has among the freest presses of the world, is being targeted for sanctions. Even Arab and Muslim journalists have more freedom of the press in Israel than in any Arab or Muslim nation. While Palestinian terrorist groups murder, kidnap and threaten journalists, the British Union exempts the Palestinian authority, run by the censorious Hamas, from its journalistic sanctions.

The reason is obvious. The British Union cares less about journalists or freedom of the press than it does about blindly condemning the Jewish state.

The same can be said about the British University and College Union, which has voted to move forward with the boycott against only Israeli academics. Israel has more academic freedom – for Jews and Muslims alike – than any Arab or Muslim nation and than the vast majority of countries in the world.

Israeli scientists have developed, on a per capita basis, more lifesaving medical technologies than any nation in the world. Yet the British Union has singled out Israel alone for boycott.

Again, this has nothing to do with protecting academic freedom or scientific inquiry. It has everything to do with anti-Israel bigotry.

Now academics around the world are fighting back against this British bigotry. Led by more than a dozen Nobel Prize winners, thousands of American academics have signed a petition declaring themselves to be honorary Israelis for purposes of any academic boycott. They have pledged to refuse to participate in any events from which Israeli academics are boycotted.

Any academic who wishes to join this moral response to an immoral boycott can e-mail

Spectator – Spin-Doctors of the Revolution

Rachel Boynton, director of the documentary “Our Brand Is Crisis,” was excited when she first learned that American political consultants export their work globally.

While a student at Columbia School of Journalism, she saw a film about the history of 20th century nonviolent conflict that included a segment on how American consultants had gone to Chile in 1990 to produce TV ads for a successful campaign to end Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s long autocratic presidency.

“I thought to myself, ‘There’s my movie. I want to follow an American who is trying to run an ad campaign to oust a dictator,'” Boynton said in a telephone interview. “It seemed to epitomize a lot of things I think of as being fundamentally American — optimism, hubris, political idealism and the profit motive all wrapped up in one event.”

Raised by her Jewish lawyer mother, Esther, after her parents divorced when she was 9 months old, Boynton had already lived in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Denver, Ann Arbor and Paris by the time she was in graduate school. Her film’s subject also dovetailed with her undergraduate degree in international relations from Brown University.

After five years of work on “Crisis,” Boynton, 32, has finally completed her movie, which opens in Los Angeles on April 14. But it didn’t turn out as originally planned.

She documents the campaign waged by the liberal firm of Greenberg Carville (as in James Carville) Shrum (GCS) on behalf of the unpopular but reformist millionaire, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (a.k.a. “Goni”), who was attempting to return to office as president of Bolivia.

“I liked GCS because they were very idealistic about what they did,” Boynton said. “Most people expect to see political consultants being very mercenary. This firm professed to be idealistic about their work.”

Essentially the firm’s strategies for advertising, focus groups, polling and image-shaping worked in Bolivia. “Goni” won in 2002. But the rifts caused by the spirited election set in motion a bloody uprising that forced him to flee from office in 2004.

The turn of events left the firm’s Jeremy Rosner and Stan Greenberg — captured by Boynton in post-revolt interviews — feeling melancholy and disappointed. A revolution was not part of their plans.

“They had this American attitude because we live in a place that’s stable,” Boynton said. “That is not necessarily the normal course of things all across the world. We need to recognize our perspective is not universally shared.”

“Our Brand Is Crisis” opens April 14 at the Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. For showtimes, call (323) 848-3500.


Will Gaza Pullout Bring Civil Strife?

On the eve of the Jewish New Year, Israel’s national discourse was dominated by talk of potential civil war, but few of those talking dared define the possible dimensions of such a conflict.

Would it mean confrontations between soldiers and civilians? Would it be limited to the extreme margins of the settler movement? Could it really present a threat to the very existence of the State of Israel, as Knesset member Yossi Sarid suggested?

Various groups on the right have sent a clear warning to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that if he moves ahead with plans to dismantle settlements in Gaza next year, he will face the danger of "tearing the nation apart." Sharon, for his part, is showing no signs of backing down, insisting he will push ahead with the disengagement plan and will not be cowed by threats of civil strife. For the time being, it seems, both the extreme right and Sharon are pointing to the danger of civil conflict to serve their own causes.

Tens of thousands gathered at Jerusalem’s Zion Square Sunday night to protest the disengagement, carrying posters calling Sharon a "dictator." Although rally organizers pulled down a sign labeling Sharon a traitor, the event was reminiscent of a similar rally nine years ago against the Oslo process, with demonstrators carrying signs of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin dressed in a Nazi uniform. Two months later Rabin was murdered.

Also highlighting the depth of the division, dozens of well-known right-wingers — among them Bentzion Netanyahu, father of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the minister’s brother, Iddo — signed a petition urging soldiers not to obey orders to evacuate settlers, insisting that such an evacuation would amount to "crimes against humanity."

Also, at a meeting between settler leaders and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, the settlers warned that a civil confrontation could take place within weeks. Under certain circumstances, they said, settlers would not hesitate to confront soldiers.

Eliezer Hisdai, mayor of the West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe, whose daughter is buried in the settlement, said: "If anyone dared touch my daughter’s grave, if someone tried to take her out of the grave, I would shoot him, be it a soldier or the chief of staff."

Nissan Slomiansky, a Knesset member from the National Religious Party (NRP), charged that Sharon and his disengagement plan were "crazy." Despite such statements, NRP was expected to stay in Sharon’s coalition.

But despite such statements, the NRP voted Monday to stay in Sharon’s coalition. And, indeed, some settler leaders refrained from direct calls for confrontation, electing to play it safe. They spoke instead of the danger that others could resort to violence.

At the Jerusalem protest, there was obvious concern that rhetoric could get out of hand. Speeches were toned downed, and settler leaders urged their supporters not to resort to violence and to avert a civil conflict.

Zvulun Orlev, the influential welfare minister from the NRP, sharply condemned anyone threatening civil conflict — though at the same time, he declared that Sharon was wrong in putting all the blame on the settlers.

For now, Sharon is displaying no weakness. At a meeting with Likud activists in Tel Aviv, he declared: "We will go ahead with all our plans. I don’t believe it is possible that the present situation can continue with such hatred and incitement."

He was furious at Cabinet ministers for not standing by him publicly, although they had voted in favor of the disengagement and cautioned this week, for the first time in public, against the danger of a civil war.

The security services are concerned that as the actual disengagement grows closer, the threat of Jew-against-Jew confrontations will become more real. General Security Service sources have spoken openly of the increased possibility that zealots may try and hurt Sharon or attempt to sabotage the mosques on the Temple Mount.

There is genuine concern that Jewish extremists will follow the example of Yigal Amir, Rabin’s assassin, whose single act of violence triggered events that may have resulted in the collapse of the Oslo process.

Israel’s police inspector general, Moshe Karadi, has already instructed his officers to take drastic measures against any "show of incitement." If the verbal escalation continues, the authorities are likely to issue administrative arrest orders against suspects, bypassing the courts.

The administrative detention of right-wing activist Noam Federman, who had been suspected of links to a West Bank settler group that tried to bomb an Arab school in Jerusalem, was extended Monday for an additional three months.

Still, no one knows for sure what the real prospects are for a violent clash between the government and settlers. After all, Israel survived the evacuation of the northern Sinai settlements in 1982.

However, there is always the possibility that continuous talk of civil strife will amount to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Saddam’s Fate Carries Messages

When the news broke that Saddam Hussein was captured, there
was an uproar of joy here. Like many Israelis, I was glued to the TV screen,
watching L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq,
announcing proudly: “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!”

What a great moment for the free world.

A minute later, however, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A U.S.
military physician showed up on the screen, checking someone who looked like a
homeless man, probing his wild beard and hair (looking for lice?) and examining
his open mouth like a dentist (or was it a search for traces of the missing
unconventional weapons?).

This scene was repeated endlessly on television, surely to
become one of the famous pictures of this decade. What a mistake. America’s
position and conduct in Iraq are delicate enough, even without such

“Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth,” said Solomon the
Wise, “and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbles” (Proverbs, 24,17). He
knew why: “Lest the Lord see it, and it displeases Him, and He turns away His
wrath from him.”

The way the captured Saddam was exposed would outrage not
only Islamic fanatics, those self-anointed ambassadors of Allah’s wrath, but
also simple Iraqis, who would resent the blow to what’s left of their national

So many times in Israel, after a suicide attack, we found
out that the terrorist or one of his close relatives had been humiliated in
this way or another. Not that the terrorists need excuses, but why rub salt
into wounds?

Having said that, the fact that Saddam was finally captured
is much more important than the way it was done. This dramatic event carries
some significant messages for the Middle East players.

For the Israelis, there should be a sense of confidence in
their powerful U.S. allies. In the long campaign against state terror and
aggressive tyrants of the Middle East, Israel is not alone.

Yet, it is better not to overlook the subtle message
involved. American determination is universal; it is as tough when it comes to
chasing enemies as it is when pursuing peace.

Anyone who thinks that in an election year, U.S.
administrations can be fooled is only fooling himself. If the recent moderate
noises made by top Israeli politicians are not genuine, and are nothing but a
smoke screen, then that is a big mistake.

Yasser Arafat should also pay close attention. He should
play the video clip of Saddam’s capture over and over again and mind the U.S.
soldier standing next to a wooden box, which Saddam kept in his pit and which
contained $750,000. Neither this sum nor the billions this “kleptocrat” stole
from his people saved him at the end.

Last but not least is Bashar Assad of Syria. With Saddam
gone, he is the last Ba’ath Party dictator in our neighborhood. Surely he has
reasons to be nervous. Gone are the good old days of his father, when the
United States was so far away, busy with other things.

Suddenly, with mighty U.S. troops at his border, it has
become dangerous for Assad to harbor terrorist groups in Damascus and, together
with Iran, play his Hezbollah proxy against Israel. No wonder that, out of the
blue, he recently said he wanted to resume talks with Israel. No doubt he is
feeling the heat.

If I were Assad, I would try a fake beard — just in case. Â

Uri Dromi is the director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.