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German poet declared unwelcome in Israel

By Guy Azriel
April 9, 2012 -- Updated 1219 GMT (2019 HKT)
German poet Gunter Grass, who won a Nobel Prize in literature in 1999, is now unwelcome in Israel.
German poet Gunter Grass, who won a Nobel Prize in literature in 1999, is now unwelcome in Israel.
  • Gunter Grass' poem accused Israel of wanting to "extinguish the Iranian people"
  • Israeli leaders assail Grass, say Iran is the real threat
  • Grass was in the Nazi Waffen-SS during World War II

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israel declared a German poet persona non grata Sunday in an unusual move that follows a wave of fury over a controversial poem.

Published in the German paper S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday under the title "What needs to be said," the poem by Gunter Grass accused Israel of planning a preemptive strike against Iran in order to "extinguish the Iranian people." It said Israel's "atomic power endangers" world peace.

The poem also criticized the German government for supplying Israel with a submarine capable of sending destructive warheads "where the existence of a single nuclear bomb is unproven."

The 84-year-old Grass, who won a Nobel Prize in literature in 1999, is now unwelcome in Israel, the government announced.

The poem earned him a blaze of harsh critics that included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a statement published Thursday, Netanyahu referred to Grass' comparison between Israel and Iran as "shameful" and argued that it said "little about Israel and much about Mr. Grass."

1-on-1 with Israel's defense minister

"It is Iran, not Israel, that is a threat to the peace and security of the world" said Netanyahu, "It is Iran, not Israel, that threatens other states with annihilation."

Referring to Grass' past as a member of the Nazi Waffen-SS during World War II, Netanyahu said "it is not surprising" for the poet "to cast the one and only Jewish state as the greatest threat to world peace and to oppose giving Israel the means to defend itself."

In an effort to quash the criticism and accusations of anti-Semitism, Grass later explained himself in an interview, saying he merely meant to point to what he considers wrongful policies of the current Israeli government led by Netanyahu.

"I criticize a policy that continues to build settlements against any U.N. resolution," Grass said.

"Grass' poems are an attempt to ignite the flame of hatred against the people and the state of Israel and thereby promote the idea he was publicly a part of when he wore the SS Nazi uniforms," Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said on Sunday.

"If Grass wishes to proceed with his distorted and false creations, I suggest he does so in Iran, where he can find a supporting audience," Yishai added.

Yishai's spokesman told CNN the travel ban against Grass was issued on the basis of an Israeli law that enables the government to deny former Nazis from entering the country.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday the poem is "an expression of the cynicism of some the West's intellectuals, who, for publicity purposes and the desire to sell a few more books, are willing to sacrifice the Jewish nation a second time on the altar of crazy anti-Semites."

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