Israel has named German writer Günther Grass “persona non grata” over a poem he wrote criticizing the Jewish state, the Associated Press reports.
In the poem, titled “What Must Be Said,” Grass, 84, attacks what he sees as Western hypocrisy over Israel’s nuclear program and calls the country a threat to “fragile world peace” for its stance on Iran. Israel--which has threatened to attack Iran’s nuclear installations if diplomacy and international sanctions fail to stop Iran’s nuclear program-- denounced Grass for suggesting a moral equivalence between Iran and the Jewish state and accusing Israel of plans to “annihilate” the Iranian people.
Grass backpedaled some from his remarks in an interview with prominent German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The Nobel laureate told the paper in hindsight he wishes he made clear in the poem he was criticizing not Israel, but the policies of its current government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I have often supported Israel, I have often been in the country and want the country to exist and at last find peace with its neighbors,” Grass told the paper.
Despite those words, Israel’s Interior Minister EliYishi announced on Sunday that Grass was barred from visiting Israel. “If Günther wants to spread his twisted and lying works, I suggest he does this from Iran, where he can find a supportive audience,” Yishi said, according to the AP.
In announcing the ban, Yishi cited a law that bans former Nazis from entering the country. Grass was drafted as a young man into in the Waffen-SS Nazi paramilitary organization. But the “Tin Drum,” perhaps the author’s best known work, is a fictional work that is critical about the rise of Nazism.
Gideon Levy, a columnist for Israel news site Haaretz, was one of a number of Israeli commentators that said Grass had raised an important issue. “They are not anti-Semites, they are expressing the opinion of many people,” wrote Levy of Grass and other critics of Israel. “Instead of accusing them we should consider what we did that led them to express it.”
Read “What Must Be Said” below:
Why do I stay silent, conceal for too long
What is obvious and has been
Practiced in war games, at the end of which we as survivors
Are at best footnotes.
It is the alleged right to the first strike
That could annihilate the Iranian people—
Subjugated by a loud-mouth
And guided to organized jubilation—
Because in their sphere of power,
It is suspected, a nuclear bomb is being built.
Yet why do I forbid myself
To name that other country
In which, for years, even if secretly,
There has been a growing nuclear potential at hand
But beyond control, because not accessible to inspections?
The universal concealment of these facts,
To which my silence subordinated itself,
I sense as an incriminating lie
And coercion--the punishment is promised
As soon as it is ignored;
The verdict of "anti-Semitism" is familiar.
Now, though, because in my country
Which time and again has sought and confronted
Its very own crimes
That is without comparison
In turn on a purely commercial basis, if also
With nimble lips calling it a reparation, declares
A further U-boat should be delivered to Israel,
Whose specialty consists of guiding all-destroying warheads to where the existence
Of a single atomic bomb is unproven,
But fear wishes to be of conclusive evidence,
I say what must be said.
But why have I stayed silent until now?
Because I thought my origin,
Afflicted by a stain never to be expunged
Forbade this fact as pronounced truth
To be told to the nation of Israel, to which I am bound
And wish to stay bound.
Why do I say only now,
Aged and with my last ink,
The nuclear power Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace?
Because it must be said
What even tomorrow may be too late to say;
Also because we--as Germans burdened enough--
Could become suppliers to a crime
That is foreseeable, wherefore our complicity
Could not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.
And granted: I am silent no longer
Because I am tired of the West's hypocrisy;
In addition to which it is to be hoped
That this will free many from silence,
Appeal to the perpetrator of the recognizable danger
To renounce violence and
That an unhindered and permanent control
Of the Israeli nuclear potential
And the Iranian nuclear sites
Be authorized through an international agency
By the governments of both countries.
Only this way are all, the Israelis and Palestinians,
Even more, all people, that in this
Region occupied by mania
Live cheek by jowl among enemies,
And also us, to be helped.