8 Apr 2012

Günter Grass barred from Israel over poem

The celebrated German author Günter Grass has been declared persona non grata in Israel following the publication of his poem warning that the Jewish state's nuclear programme was a threat to an "already fragile world peace".

The row over the literary work continued to reverberate over the weekend, with the 84-year-old Nobel laureate saying in a newspaper interview that he did not intend to criticise Israel but the policies of its present government, led by Binyamin Netanyahu.

With hindsight, he told Süddeutsche Zeitung, he would have rewritten his poem to "make it clearer that I am primarily talking about the [Netanyahu] government". He added: "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 neighbours." Netanyahu, he said, was damaging Israel.


Israeli politicians and commentators said that Grass had disqualified himself from criticising Israeli policies by his service as a young man in the Nazi Waffen SS. Some said the poem was thinly disguised antisemitism, a response predicted by Grass in his poem. Netanyahu issued a statement denouncing the poem and its author.

On Sunday, Israel's interior minister Eli Yishai used a law permitting a bar on entry to former Nazis to declare Grass persona non grata for his "attempt to fan the flames of hatred against the state of Israel and its people, and thus to advance the idea to which he publicly affiliated in his past donning of the SS uniform". Yishai's statement added: "If Gunter wants to continue to spread his twisted and lying works, I suggest he does this from Iran, where he can find a supportive audience."