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Eli Yishai Bans Günter Grass From Israel

Israel’s minister of the interior responds unjustly to controversial poem

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Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, on December 19. 2010 in Jerusalem.(Jim Hollander - Pool/Getty Images)

When Eli Yishai, Israel’s minister of the interior, read Günter Grass’ now-notorious poem, “What must be said,” last week, he had little doubt what must be done: Without mincing words, Yishai used his executive powers and declared Grass persona non grata, barring him from entering Israel.

As a devout Jew—Yishai belongs to the ultra-Orthodox Shas party—the minister would probably appreciate the Talmudic discussion his decision merits. As his declaration is not merely a political statement but an official act of state depriving Grass of his right to freely visit the Jewish state, and as official acts of state should never, in a modern nation, occur merely on a whim but rather must reflect some carefully thought out government policy, we are obligated to parse.

The first clear implication is that the honorable minister of the interior must have the authority to decide on a case-by-case basis which act of criticism merits banishment and which is to be tolerated. And as official acts of state, once again, can not be arbitrary, this means that Yishai should be able to present a list of clearly defined criteria. Just what sort of criticism gets one’s name on the black list? Is criticizing in poem worse than criticizing in prose? Are Germans, especially those with murky pasts, deducted five points for every act of criticism, for obvious historical reasons? And given the whole existential threat business, is any criticism related to Iran far more damning than criticism related to, say, the Palestinians? It would appear so.

That, of course, is a ridiculous proposition, and so, the obvious conclusion is that the state of Israel will from now on categorically ban anyone who criticizes it in any way from entry. Which means that I, too, should be banned, immediately, and General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of Joints Chief of Staff, and Coldplay, and anyone else who has ever publicly uttered any word that could be somehow construed as anything less than entirely and unquestioningly approving of Israel and every single one of its actions and policies. This should apply to Israelis as well as foreign citizens: Any Israeli critical of Israel should be made to leave at once, especially those pesky Supreme Court justices that keep on saying unflattering things to Netanyahu and his Cabinet.

I would be endlessly amused by such mind-benders were this not my country. If anyone still needs any additional proof that Israel is headed into benighted realms, Yishai was all too happy to provide it. He, and the bosses who back him, acted like every weak, frightened, irrational, and vindictive country always acts. Stifling criticism and punishing speech are only the beginning. It gets much worse. This must be said.

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elliot cohen says:

How about banning ex-Waffen SS personnel? Is that okay?

Yes, Elliot, that would have been fine, on two conditions:

a. That the decision to ban Grass had been passed several years ago, when he revealed his past as a member of the Waffen SS.


b. That others — like Noam Chomsky, say, or the Spanish clown Ivan Prado — who hadn’t been members of the SS weren’t similarly denied entry.

Yishai failed to meet both these conditions, and therefore his decision cannot be seen as anything but arbitrary and irrational.

dave says:

With this step, the line dividing Israeli democracy from Middle Eastern sheikhdoms just got blurred.

I’m sorry to see it happen.

For Zlota says:

What is it with everything being a sign of proof of the hideous decline of Israel?

Evan says:

I believe Israel can (and should) ban Coldplay for making mind-bogglingly awful music.

andrew says:

You are so right about this decision and its repercussions. Thank you for writing this. The world needs to see that.

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

LL won’t be satisfied until Israelis regularly wear T-shirts with the phrase “Kick Me, please” printed on the back.

I am waiting for his pet organizations like JVP and J Street to demonstrate their commitment to freedom of speech by inviting speakers significantly to their right to speak to them…

And while they are at it, condemn those who interrupt and create loud disturbances at appearances on campuses of those significantly to their right.


ahad ha'amoratsim says:

Why is it that the instant I read “Yishai belongs to the ultra-Orthodox Shas party” I knew that the author was going to say that his actions were inexcusable, hypocritical and anti-Democratic? If there is anything more predictable than a so-called “ultra-Orthodox” Jews, it is an outraged ultra-liberal.

daniel says:

1. Israel can ban whomever they like. Britain and the U.S. for example have and do ban individuals, including a current Israeli member of the Knesset.

2. Grass was a member of the Waffen S.S. That is a good reason to ban him and it frankly should have taken place when he finally (!) admitted that he was a member.

Grass is a bloated, self-absorbed hypocrit.

Jules says:

the official Israeli reactions have been extreme to say the least.

I agree with this op ed today from the NY Times.

Asher Yosef says:

We understand, Mr. Leibovitz, that you like the SS and whoever else likes to murder Jews, staring with Hezbollah. Your past articles, including in the Jewish Week, scream it. Most of Israel does not not share your opinion though.

Kahalani says:

The man is a former Waffen-SS member, even if he didn’t write a disgusting “poem,” that fact alone is enough to keep him away from Israel.

Miha Ahronovitz says:

Here is my tweet:
#GuntherGrass One day the prince went through an identity crisis & came to the conclusion that he was really a chicken 

I was referring to Rabbi Nachman Chassidic tale The Chicken Prince  which is an apt metaphor for Gunther Grass. Some wise man, in spirit of Jewish tradition must go under the table, pretending he is a chicken too.
The declaring of Gunther Grass as persona non-gratta is a hormonal, impulsive non-Jewish-Kopf decision. 

 How come no one in Israel invited the poet to come over and recite his poem?. Quite the contrary: Haaretzonline tweets:  #Israel writers call on int’l literary community to rebuke #GunterGrass : . What do we mean by Association? A Bureaucratic Committee who hijacks the personal opinions of the writers themselves? What are we in Israel?  Romania under Ceausescu?

Thanks Liel for saying what we must say

michaelroloff says:

 Much appreciate the cool humor of this post. Here the gtrowing archives to this huge controversy THE COMPLEAT ARCHIVE FOR THE

A compendium of critical opinions
And of positive takes



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Eli Yishai Bans Günter Grass From Israel

Israel’s minister of the interior responds unjustly to controversial poem

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