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Posted at 11:01 AM ET, 04/09/2012

Günther Grass says he was criticizing Netanyahu, not Israel

Israel has named German writer Günther Grass “persona non grata” over a poem he wrote criticizing the Jewish state, the Associated Press reports.


Günther Grass addresses members of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, eastern France in 2000. (CHRISTIAN LUTZ - ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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

Likewise insist

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.

By  |  11:01 AM ET, 04/09/2012

Tags:  World, Gunther Grass, Israel, poems

 
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