Israel bars German writer Grass from visiting over poem

JERUSALEM/BERLIN Sun Apr 8, 2012 9:52am EDT

File photo of German author Guenter Grass taken at a campaign event in Hamburg on February 6, 2011. Israel declared Grass ''persona non grata'' on April 8, 2012, over a poem titled ''What Must Be Said'', in which the former SS soldier described the Jewish state as a threat to world peace. REUTERS/Christian Charisius

File photo of German author Guenter Grass taken at a campaign event in Hamburg on February 6, 2011. Israel declared Grass ''persona non grata'' on April 8, 2012, over a poem titled ''What Must Be Said'', in which the former SS soldier described the Jewish state as a threat to world peace.

Credit: Reuters/Christian Charisius

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JERUSALEM/BERLIN (Reuters) - Israel declared Nobel Prize-winning German author Guenter Grass "persona non grata" on Sunday over a poem in which the former SS soldier described the Jewish state as a threat to world peace.

Grass would be barred from visiting for his "attempt to inflame hatred against the State of Israel and people of Israel, and thus to advance the idea to which he was publicly affiliated in his past donning of the SS uniform," Interior Minister Eli Yishai said in a statement.

In the poem published by a German newspaper last week, Grass, 84, condemned his country's arms sales to Israel and said the Jewish state must not be allowed to launch military strikes against Iran.

Israel, widely assumed to have the Middle East's only nuclear weapons, has threatened to take military action, with or without U.S. support, to halt what it sees as a nuclear threat from Iran.

Tehran says it is developing nuclear technology for purely peaceful purposes, but its calls for Israel's destruction, support for Islamist guerrillas on its borders and questioning of the Nazi genocide have stirred international war jitters.

The poem, titled "What Must Be Said," was condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has described the Islamic republic's disputed nuclear program as a threat akin to the Holocaust.

Grass's words were also denounced by mainstream political parties in Germany, where any strong condemnation of Israel is taboo because of the of the Nazi-perpetrated Holocaust.

The author said in a weekend interview that, in retrospect, he would have phrased his poem differently to "make it clearer that I am primarily talking about the (Netanyahu) government."

"I have often supported Israel, I have often been in the country and want the country to exist and at last find peace with its neighbors," he told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Grass had urged Germans for decades to come to terms with their Nazi past but his moral authority has never fully recovered after his belated admission in 2006 that he had once served in Hitler's Waffen SS.

"Why do I say only now... that the nuclear power Israel endangers an already fragile world peace? Because that must be said which may already be too late to say tomorrow," Grass wrote in the German-language poem.

"Also because we - as Germans burdened enough - may become a subcontractor to a crime that is foreseeable."

In a response in Bild am Sonntag newspaper, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: "Putting Israel and Iran on the same moral level is not ingenious but absurd."

Yishai, who heads an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party in Netanyahu's conservative coalition government, suggested that Grass go to Iran, "where he would find a sympathetic audience should he want to continue disseminating his warped and mendacious work."

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)

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