Berlin politicians split over Grass travel ban

German minister calls Israel's response to poem "exaggerated"; Merkel party spokesman: J'lem faces "existential threat."

Gunter Grass 370 (R() (photo credit: REUTERS)
Gunter Grass 370 (R()
(photo credit: REUTERS)
BERLIN – Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s announcement Sunday to ban Günter Grass from visiting Israel has prompted criticism and support from German politicians.
The decision, based on a 1952 law barring people who were members of Nazi organizations from traveling to the Jewish state, occurred after Grass published a poem last week attacking Israel as the main impediment for world peace and a nuclear threat to Iran’s population.
Israel’s ban is “totally exaggerated,” Daniel Bahr, health minister from the Free Democratic Party, told the daily Die Welt in an interview slated to appear Tuesday. “I cannot imagine that Mr. Grass has any interest in showing up in Israel after the explicit criticism he has faced in Germany.”
Bahr also attacked Grass for the poem, saying it was “sad to see that someone who has experienced all the controversies of post-war Germany remains marked by so much prejudice and stubbornness.”
While Bahr and other politicians from the Green Party and the Social Democrats criticized the travel ban, Philipp Missfelder, the spokesman for the Christian Democratic Union party in the Bundestag, issued support for the Jewish state. “Israel decides for itself who is and not welcome,” Missfelder told the daily Tagesspiegel on Monday. He added that Israel is facing an existential threat and that explains the reaction.
Responding to Grass’s statement last week that he only meant to target Israel’s current government, in an email to The Jerusalem Post, Missfelder wrote: “Mr.Grass’s defense proves that he does not understand his damaging words. He misjudges facts and represents a hostile position toward Israel, which, moreover, plays into the hands of the Iranian aggressor. That is fatal and goes well beyond a so-called friendly critique.”
Two former Israeli ambassadors to Germany, Avi Primor and Shimon Stein, also reacted to the recent events. Primor termed the measures to ban Grass “exaggerated and a bit hysterical,” in German ARD television news. Stein said the poem reveals “a disturbed relationship to his own history and a disturbed relationship to Jews and Israel,” in an interview with the Stuttgarter Zeitung.
Grass was a member of the Nazi Waffen- SS at the age of 17 during World War II, but refused to disclose his membership for six decades until 2006. Critics accused him of a phony moralism because he advocated that Germans must confront their Nazi history, but he hid his past Nazi activity.
A Grass sponsored memorial was desecrated last week in the university city of Göttingen, and spray painted with the words “shut your trap” and the Nazi SS emblem. The German peace parades at the annual Easter marches showed widespread support for Grass’s attacks on Israel.