German writer Guenter Grass barred from entering Israel

Image caption,
Guenter Grass' poem has infuriated the Israeli government and has been condemned in Germany

Israel has declared the German author Guenter Grass "persona non grata" and barred him from entering the country.

Grass, a Nobel laureate, recently criticised Israel in a poem.

In it, Grass condemned German arms sales to Israel, and said the Jewish state must not be allowed to launch military strikes against Iran.

Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai says Grass is not welcome because he has tried "to inflame hatred against the State and people of Israel."

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

'What Must Be Said'

In one section of the poem, published in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and called "What Must be Said", Grass attacks Israel's nuclear programme.

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

The poem has already been condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Grass's most recent work has also been widely criticised in Germany, which is extremely sensitive about attacks on Israeli policy because of its role in the Holocaust.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told the Bild newspaper that "putting Israel and Iran on the same moral level is not ingenious but absurd".

The author told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that, in retrospect, he should 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 neighbours," he said.

Some of Grass's critics have referred to the fact that the 84-year-old writer served in the Nazi Waffen SS during the Second World War, something he did not admit until 2006.

But he has been defended by some sections of Israeli opinion.

Writing in the Haaretz newspaper, columnist Gideon Levy criticised the ban on Grass.

"A situation in which any German who dares criticise Israel is instantly accused of anti-Semitism is intolerable", he said, "after we denounce the exaggeration, after we shake off the unjustified part of the charge, we must listen."

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