JERUSALEM — Israel's interior minister declared Germany's Nobel-winning author Gunter Grass unwelcome in Israel on Sunday, barring him from entering the country for a poem that accused Israel of being a threat to world peace.
"Grass's poems fan the flames of hatred against Israel and the Israeli people, thus promoting the idea he was part of when he donned an SS uniform," said the minister, Eli Yishai, referring to Grass' admission that he had been a Nazi soldier as a 17-year-old. "His distorted poems are not welcome in Israel. I suggest he try them in Iran where he will find a sympathetic audience."
Controversy has engulfed Grass, 84, for the past five days since he published his 69-line poem titled What Must Be Said in the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. The poem assailed Israel for its threats to attack Iran over its nuclear program, called for supervision of Israel's nuclear weapons and warned that Germany, through its sales of submarines to Israel, risked being complicit in a crime.
While those views are relatively common among European intellectuals, the way in which they were strung together — placing Israel and Iran on the same moral plane, echoing language and themes that have long stirred anti-Semitism — along with Grass' own history have drawn exceptional anger to the poem.
The issue continued to boil in Germany, where Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called comparisons between Israel and Iran "absurd," and Marcel Reich-Ranicki, the country's leading literary critic and himself a Holocaust survivor, described the poem as "disgusting."
Two days after his poem appeared, Grass, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999, said in an interview that he had meant to focus his attack not so much on Israel as on the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.