Can Israel ever be compared to Iran?

The Times’ editorial on Tuesday discussing Israel’sreaction to Gunter Grass’ poem on a possible confrontation with Iran prompted reader Steven Zak of Sunland to write:

“The Times argues that by ‘overreacting’ to Grass’ poem, Israelis ‘are acting like Iranians.’ More accurately, The Times is acting like Grass, who defames Israel as a ‘perpetrator’ of ‘recognized danger.’ The Times does likewise by comparing Israelis with Iran’s regime.

“When Grass calls the established fact of Iran’s weapons program ‘unproven,’ he sounds like the Iranians, who both deny the Holocaust and vow to repeat it. Anyone who thinks Israel’s condemnation of such a man is ‘the kind of reaction we’d expect from Iran’s mullahs’ is ignorant about how those mullahs deal with dissent.”

Editorial writer Dan Turner responds:

Suppose a European author wrote a strong critique of President Obama’s policies on detaining and trying terror suspects; in response, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton forbade the writer from entering the country. To most Americans, that would be an outrageous violation of the free-speech principles this country holds dear. Yet when Israeli officials commit such an obvious offense against their nation’s own progressive values, many are willing to give them a pass. Israel is a small country that feels threatened in a way the U.S. doesn’t, but barring Grass does nothing to strengthen Israeli security.

Grass, meanwhile, is quite correct in asserting that no one has proved that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, even if many suspect that it is. The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, a classified report that reflects the opinions of America’s intelligence agencies, reportedly concludes that the Iranians stopped trying to build a nuclear weapon nearly a decade ago. There’s still ample reason to worry, given Iran’s failure to open its nuclear facilities to inspection and its known uranium-enrichment activities. But it also means that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is not an “established fact.”

Finally, a word about our comparison of Israel’s treatment of Grass with Iran’s treatment of dissenters. Iran’s constitution perversely guarantees freedom of the press “except when it is detrimental to the principles of Islam or the rights of the public,” a vague qualification that in practice has empowered the government to censor and restrict the domestic media at will. It has no such power to censor foreign newspapers, so it can only angrily denounce its critics abroad — in much the same way the Israeli government is denouncing Grass.