Nobel winner Grass seeks to quell controversy over poem criticizing Israel as Iran applauds (AP) Associated Press) BERLIN, GERMANY 04/07/12)
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BERLIN — German Nobel literature laureate Guenter Grass, under fire
for a poem that sharply criticized Israel, said he was singling out
the Jewish state’s government, not the country as a whole.
The poem drew sharp rebukes at home and from Israel, including
accusations of being anti-Semitic, but Grass received praise from a
senior Iranian official Saturday.
In the poem published in European dailies Wednesday, the 84-year-old
German author criticized what he described as Western hypocrisy over
Israel’s nuclear program and labeled the country a threat to “already
fragile world peace” over its belligerent stance on Iran.
In an interview published Saturday by the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung,
Grass said he sought foremost to single out Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, whose policies “are creating ever
more enemies of Israel, and are ever more increasing the country’s
“The man who damages Israel the most at the moment is in my opinion
Netanyahu — and I should have included that in the poem,” Grass was
quoted as saying.
The left-leaning Grass established himself as a leading literary
figure with “The Tin Drum,” published in 1959, and won the Nobel
Prize in 1999. He urged fellow Germans to confront their painful Nazi
history in the decades after World War II.
However, his image suffered a bruising when he admitted in his 2006
autobiography that at age 17 he was drafted into the Waffen-SS, the
combat arm of the Nazis’ paramilitary organization, in the final
months of World War II.
In his poem, Grass called for “unhindered and permanent control of
Israel’s nuclear capability and Iran’s atomic facilities through an
international body.” Also, he specifically criticized Israel’s “claim
to the right of a first strike” against Iran.
“What is now an imminent threat is a risk without parallel — a
preventive strike, a first strike against Iran which would have
terrible consequences,” Grass told Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
In a sharp-worded response to the poem, Netanyahu rebuked Grass’
views as “ignorant and reprehensible.”
His “shameful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran, a regime
that denies the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel, says
little about Israel and much about Mr. Grass,” Netanyahu said in a
statement dated Thursday.
“For six decades, Mr. Grass hid the fact that he had been a member of
the Waffen SS. So for him to cast the one and only Jewish state as
the greatest threat to world peace and to oppose giving Israel the
means to defend itself is perhaps not surprising,” he added.
But Iran’s deputy culture minister, Javad Shamaqdari, said Saturday
that by criticizing Israel, Grass beautifully carried out his human
and historical responsibility, and his revelation of “truth may
awaken the silent conscience” of the West.
As a result of the country’s Nazi past, German governments over the
past decades have made staunch support for Israel a cornerstone of
their foreign policy. But many Germans recently have been irritated
by the hawkish tone and the threats emanating from Netanyahu’s
But Israel views Iran as a threat to its existence, citing among
other things some Iranian calls for its destruction and fears that
Iran aims to produce nuclear weapons.
In the poem, Grass didn’t mention those calls, which have been made
by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but obliquely referred to
the Iranian people being “subjugated by a loudmouth.”
Israel is widely believed to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons, but
has never admitted it, pursuing instead an official policy
of “ambiguity” to deter potential attackers.___Ali Akbar Dareini in
Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report. (© 2012 The Associated
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