BERLIN – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has told the German paper Die Welt am Sonntag that Nobel literature laureate Günter Grass’s recent poem sharply criticizing Israel is “an absolute scandal.”
Netanyahu ratcheted up his criticism of Grass in the interview with the paper, and defended Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s decision to bar Grass from entering Israel.
The poem was “shameful” and constituted a “collapse of moral judgment,” the prime minister said.
Die Welt’s website published excerpts of the interview on Saturday, which is slated to appear in the Sunday paper.
The 84-year-old Grass, a former member of the Nazi- Waffen SS, published a poem, “What Must Be Said,” earlier this month in the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. Grass accused Israel of warmongering and planning a first nuclear strike against the Islamic Republic to “extinguish the Iranian people.” He said Israel was a main impediment to world peace.
Netanyahu told Die Welt am Sonntag, “That this comes from a German Noble prize winner, and not from some teenager in a neo-Nazi party, makes it still more shocking.”
He defended the travel ban. “Sometimes there are things that are so shocking that one has to react in other ways. He went too far in the direction of untruth and defamation. Our reaction expressed that.”
Grass “created a perfect moral misrepresentation, in that that aggressor becomes a victim and the victim becomes an aggressor,” the prime minister continued.
Netanyahu said that according to Grass, Israel’s efforts to defend itself against extermination become a threat to world peace. It is a view “where the firefighter and not the arsonist becomes the true danger,” the prime minister said.
The attacks against Israel today are comparable to the perfidy and defamation of those launched against Jews during the Nazi period in Germany, which resulted in the Holocaust, he said.
“The question which people should pose reads: What if I had back then believed in this perfidy and defamation against Jews, because defamation is always the precursor to complicity?” Netanyahu asked.
The prime minister added that it was “important and positive” that leading German politicians condemned Grass’s statements. He had hoped, however, for more support from the German public. According to surveys, 70 to 80 percent of Germans commenting on online blogs and newspaper comment sections, and responding to television polls, support Grass’s attacks against Israel.
The chairman of the opposition German Social Democratic party, Sigmar Gabriel, defended Grass last week. Gabriel called Israel an “apartheid regime” in March and has gone to great lengths to support Grass, who is a longstanding activist in the party.