Israeli minister declares Gunter Grass ‘persona non grata’

Israeli and German politicians weigh in on uproar over Nobel laureate’s poem

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Interior Minister Eli Yishai (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

German poet Gunter Grass will be barred from entering Israel, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said Sunday, after the Nobel laureate wrote a controversial poem accusing Israel of threatening world peace.

Yishai said he had declared Grass, 84, a “persona non grata.” The minister used a law allowing the Interior Ministry to bar entry to former Nazis.

Grass served in the SS at the end of WWII.

“Grass’s poems are attempts to incite hatred towards the state and the people of Israel, and in doing so, promotes the ideology to which he gave expression when he wore the SS uniform,” said Yishai in a statement. “If he wants to carry on dispersing his warped and hateful works, I propose that he does so in Iran, where they will have a favorable audience.”

The furor began last week with the publication of Grass’ poem, which chastises Israel for “threatening world peace” and seeking to “annihilate” the Iranian nation. The poem asserts that it is Israel, and not Iran, that threatens world peace with its nuclear program.

The poem has elicited emotional responses in Israel and Germany, with much of the criticism making note of Grass’ SS service.

Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, weighed in Sunday. “In order to get publicity and sell a few books, he is willing to once again sacrifice the Jews,” Lieberman told reporters.

Germany’s Foreign Minister also spoke out.

“To morally equate Israel and Iran isn’t witty, it’s absurd,” Guido Westerwelle wrote in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday.

“Despite international criticism, Iran is advancing its nuclear program. There are credible reports that point to a military dimension. In contradiction to international law, Iran refuses to cooperate regarding control of its nuclear program. Let it be said to those who don’t want to recognize that: This is not a playground for polemics, ideology and prejudices – this is dead serious,” the German foreign minister wrote.

Whoever marginalizes the danger posed by a nuclear-armed Iran is refusing to see reality, he added.

“Nuclear weapons in Iranian hands would be a threat to Israel’s security. For our responsible German foreign policy this is reason for special concern, because Germany has a historic responsibility for the people in Israel,” he wrote.

While participants in traditional Easter processions on German streets this weekend, known as “peace processions,” expressed support for Grass, many political and cultural figures have slammed the author, accusing him of distorting the facts and of anti-Semitic tendencies.

Germany’s most famous literary critic, Marcel Reich-Ranciki, called the poem “disgusting.”

“Iran wants to exterminate Israel, the President [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] announces that again and again, and Gunter Grass writes the opposite,” Reich-Ranicki, who is Jewish, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

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