If the cap fits, wear it — even if it bears the insignia of the death's head. Six years ago, when to promote his autobiography Peeling the Onion Günter Grass finally came clean about his membership of the Waffen SS, Germany's most fêted writer declared: "I kept silent about it after the war out of a growing shame." In an open letter to him in the New York Sun, I replied: "You still do not seem to understand that your silence was itself shameful."
Now aged 84, Grass has written a poem about his own silence: not about his Nazi past, but about Israel's "threat to world peace". In this month's Standpoint Mara Delius recalls her childhood memories of Grass, in whose literary milieu she grew up. She finds it hard to accept that the avuncular gentleman who treated her so kindly as a girl is now coming out with lies intended to relativise the Holocaust: claiming, for example, that "six million" German PoWs died in Soviet captivity. His poem, "What must be said", is an expression of undisguised hatred of Israel. He accuses the Jewish state of preparing "to annihilate the Iranian people" and declares "I shall no longer be silent,/Because I am tired of the hypocrisy of the West." Grass's resentment against the victorious but "hypocritical" Allies merges seamlessly with resurgent anti-Semitism.
The whole poem is based on a lie: that there is some kind of conspiracy of silence about Israel's nuclear deterrent. In fact, it has been the subject of public debate for half a century. I recall a heated argument about it many years ago at one of Lord Weidenfeld's parties between two luminaries of the Left, the late Harold Pinter and Amos Oz, in which the Israeli writer rejected his British counterpart's demand for unilateral nuclear disarmament, on the grounds that the Israeli bomb had deterred war. Oz supported the deterrent precisely because he was a peacenik.
What makes Grass's libel against the Jewish state especially sinister is that Iran really is a threat to world peace, ruled as it is by a sacerdotal psychopath dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the West. Grass is, in effect, demanding that Israel disarm itself in the face of the greatest threat to the Jewish people since Hitler. In this month's issue Con Coughlin reveals that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, personally ordered recent attacks on Israeli diplomats. Khamenei also plotted the failed assassination of the Saudi ambassador in Washington — a reminder that if Iran is permitted to become a nuclear power, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states will almost certainly protect themselves by following suit.