Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared German writer Günter Grass persona non
grata on Sunday, following the publication of his poem calling Israel a danger
to world peace.
Grass, a former Waffen-SS member and Nobel laureate,
wrote in his poem “What Must Be Said,” that Israel plans to use its “atomic
power” to “extinguish the Iranian people.”
Following an uproar that
included a statement against the poem by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,
Grass said last week that his criticism is of Netanyahu, and not Israel as a
“Grass’s poems are an attempt to fan the flame of hatred against
the State of Israel and the people of Israel,” Yishai said. As interior
minister, he can prevent people from being allowed into Israel.
to Yishai, the German writer is “promoting the idea he was a partner to when he
wore the SS uniform.
“If Grass wants to continue to spread his twisted,
lying creations, he should do so in Iran, where he’ll find a receptive
audience,” the minister added.
Grass has visited Israel twice. During his
1971 visit, he was pelted with tomatoes.
Israel has previously barred
right-wing extremist politicians from entering the country. The late Austrian
politician Jörg Haider, who praised the Nazi SS, was issued a travel ban in
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman also commented on Grass’s poem,
telling visiting Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti on Sunday that he expected
European leaders to unequivocally condemn the German author’s
According to Liberman, it is important for European leaders not
only to come out against these types of statements by high-profile figures, but
also not to give any respect or honor to those who make those
“We have already seen in the past how small seeds of
anti-Semitic hatred turn into a large flame that harms all of humanity,” he
Liberman said Grass gave voice to a cynicism that had gripped some
Western “intellectuals” who are willing – in order to promote themselves and
sell books – to “offer Jews up on the altar of crazy anti-Semites.”
published his poem in the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung last Wednesday, in
which he questioned Germany’s sale of a submarine “equipped to transport nuclear
warheads” to Israel.
Responding to Grass’s poem, in a guest commentary on
Sunday in the mass circulation Bild am Sonntag, German Foreign Minister Guido
Westerwelle wrote that to place Iran and Israel on the same moral level is
“absurd.” The 50-year-old Westerwelle said it is “not witty” to play down the
Iranian nuclear weapons threat.
He noted that “for those people who don’t
want to recognize that, this is not a playground for polemics, ideology and
prejudices – this is deadly serious.”
He said that Iran is progressing in
its nuclear program and in contradiction to international law, Iran refuses to
cooperate regarding control of it.
The foreign minister took the unusual
step of reacting to the German author, largely because Grass’s voice carries
political and moral weight in the Federal Republic.
“Though Iran has a
right to civilian nuclear energy, the country does not have the right to nuclear
arms,” said Westerwelle. “Whoever plays down the threat from Iran is refusing to
see reality. A nuclear-armed Iran would have serious
nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran would be a threat to
Israel’s security. That is for our responsible German foreign policy, a cause
and reason for special concern because Germany has a historical responsibility
for the people in Israel.”
He added that much more unites Germany with
Israel than with Iran, including a belief in individual rights, freedom,
responsibility and the rule of law.
Green Party and Social Democratic
Party politicians responded on Sunday to Grass’s travel ban to
Social Democratic deputy Rolf Mützenich, who is a member of the
German-Iranian friendship group in the Bundestag, told the Handelsblatt business
newspaper that Israel’s reaction is “not appropriate” and that a factual
discussion about Grass is necessary.
Volker Beck, a Green Party deputy
and member of the German-Israel friendship group in the parliament, views the
travel ban as false and “not democratically smart.”
Though he understands
the irritation in the Jewish state, Beck said that he hoped Israel would
reconsider its travel prohibition.