STOP ME if I have told you this joke before:
Somewhere in the US, a demonstration takes place. The police arrive and beat the protesters mercilessly.
"Don't hit me," someone shouts, "I am an anti-communist!"
"I couldn't give a damn what kind of a communist you are!" a policeman answers as he raises his baton.
THE FIRST time I told this joke was when a German group visited the Knesset and met with German-born members, including me.
They went out of their way to praise Israel, lauding everything we had been doing, condemning every bit of criticism, however harmless it might be. It became downright embarrassing, since some of us in the Knesset were very critical of our government's policy in the occupied territories.
For me, this extreme kind of pro-Semitism is just disguised anti-Semitism. Both have a basic belief in common: that Jews -- and therefore Israel -- are something apart, not to be measured by the standards applied to everybody else.
What is an anti-Semite? Somebody who hates a Jew because he is a Jew. He does not hate him for what he is as a human being, but for his origin. A Hebrew or a Shebrew (to quote a joke from Ambrose Bierce) may be good or bad, nice or nasty, rich or poor -- for being Jewish, they must be hated.
This is of course true for any kind of prejudice, including sexism, Islamophobia, chauvinism and whatever.
Germans, as is their wont, are a bit more thorough here than others. The term "Antisemitismus" was invented by a German (a few years before the terms Zionism and Feminism), and anti-Semitism was the official ideology of Germany during the Nazi years. Now the official German ideology is pro-Semitism, again going to extremes.
Another Nazi word was "Sonderbehandlung", meaning ""special treatment." It was an euphemism for something abhorrent: the killing of prisoners. But special treatment can also mean the opposite: according people and countries especially nice treatment, not because of what they do, but because of what they are -- Jewish, say.
Well, I don't like it, even when I am on the receiving end. I like to be praised when I have done something good, I am ready to be blamed when I have done something bad. I don't like to be praised (or blamed, for that matter) because I happen to have been born a Jew.
THIS BRINGS us, of course, to Gunter Grass.
Disclosure : I met him only once, when we were both invited to a conference of the German PEN Club in Berlin. During an interval I met him in a very good restaurant. I told him, quite truthfully, that I like his books very much, especially the anti-Nazi novel, "The Tin Drum," and that I like his later political activity. That was all.
I did not meet him during his many visits to Israel. On at least one of them he acquired a girl-friend, a well-known writer.
Now Grass has done the unthinkable: he has openly criticized the State of Israel! And he's a German!!!
The reaction was automatic. He was at once branded as an anti-Semite. Not just a run-of-the-mill anti-Semite, but as a crypto-Nazi, who could easily have served as a henchman of Adolf Eichmann! This was shown by the fact that at age 17, near the end of World War II, he was recruited to the Waffen-SS like tens of thousands of others and then -- oddly enough -- kept the fact hidden for many years. So there you are.