Yishai declares Grass persona non-grata

FM: German poet using anti-Semitism to sell more books.

April 8, 2012 17:30
3 minute read.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

Eli Yishai 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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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.”

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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 state.

“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.

According 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 2000.

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 comments.

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 remarks.

“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 said.

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.”

Grass 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 consequences...

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 Israel.

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.

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