This is a cross-post from El Nuevo Pantano.
Let’s start with a counterfactual.
A former Spanish priest writes a poem which speaks of the danger posed to the moral order of the world by the attempts of victims of pedophiles in the Roman Catholic Church to obtain justice and restitution for their suffering and condemns the Irish government for distancing itself from the Vatican. The Irish government reacts by declaring the poet persona non grata.
In these circumstances, how many public intellectuals, journalists and other members of the chattering classes would condemn the Irish government for excluding the former priest from its territory? How much talk would there be of the need for a frank and open discussion about the consequences of the victims of Catholic priests seeking justice and whether, all in all, it might not be dangerous for them to be allowed to do so? Would we hear discussion of the importance of the free flow of culture between nations? Would columnists in respected newspapers be saying that the Irish government’s decision reflected the inability of Irish nationalism to accept criticism and was yet another attempt to stifle debate about its legitimacy?
At the risk of laboring the point, let’s try one more.
A former member of the Ku Klux Klan writes a poem in which he complains that the struggle of people of African descent for equal rights poses a grave threat to the peace and security of countries with substantial minorities of these people due to their inherent proclivity to criminality and reproductive incontinence. In subsequent interviews he explains that he has nothing against people of African descent and that he wants their behavior to be specially regulated for their own good. On hearing of a plan by the poet to visit the UK the Home Secretary decides to deny him entry on the grounds that his presence in the country would be likely to inflame racial hatred.
How much talk would there be, in such circumstances, of the refusal of the British state to listen to criticism of its race relations policies? Would there be calls from respectable people for a frank and open discussion of whether special laws regulating the behavior of Britons of African descent might in fact be a good idea?
What I’m attempting to throw light on with these counterfactual is, obviously, the controversy surrounding the decision of the Israeli government to declare Günter Grass persona non grata. While it now appears that the specific legal mechanism for doing so was Grass’s former membership of the Waffen SS it’s obvious that the decision was triggered by the publication of Grass’s infamous poem which declared the state of the Jews, and no other, to be a threat to world peace and on the point of committing a terrible crime.
Now Grass has a perfect right to say such things and I’d be opposed by any attempt to place limits on his freedom to do so. As ever in these debates, there’s the danger of confusing Grass’s right to say what we wants with the supposed obligation of others- in this case the government of Israel- to provide him with a platform for doing so.
Though I can see that there might be some valid tactical objection to the decision to exclude Grass, on the grounds that it shifts the focus of the debate and makes him into some sort of victim, I can’t see why the government of Israel isn’t entirely justified in excluding from its territory a person who once participated, however marginally and at however young an age, in the attempt to exterminate European Jewry, and who has once more made it clear that he thinks Jews pose a special danger to humanity.
In this case at least, Eli Yishai, Israel’s Interior Minister and an obtuse religious bigot, has shown himself to be possessed of a more accurate moral compass than a good part of the liberal commentariat both in Israel and elsewhere. There’s no reason for the victims of genocide and their descendants to feel themselves obliged allow Grass or anyone with a similar history or views to enter their country to lecture them on their immorality and how they continue to pose, just like when he was a young man, a special danger to the world.
Harry’s Place adds:
Also see Nick Cohen in the Spectator.