Since the publication of his controversial poem ''What must be said'' in a German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, five days ago, the Nobel laureate and renowned German author Günter Grass is confronting massive criticism ranging from anti-Semitism to literal absurdity.
Meanwhile, the Israeli interior minister declared him ''persona non grata'' barring him from entering Israel in the future. The right-leaning ultra orthodox minister Eli Yishai accused him of maligning both the Israeli people and the state alike. "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, alluding to his role as a member of Hitler's Nazi Waffen-SS at the end of WWII. He criticised him further by suggesting, "If Günter wants to continue disseminating his distorted and mendacious works I advise him to do it from Iran where he will find a supportive audience." Earlier, Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu similarly condemned the poem and dubbed it 'Shameful'.
In his poem, Grass assailed Israel for threatening to take pre-emptive strikes against Iran if the theocratic state continued to develop nuclear weapons, as it is widely assumed to be doing. Israel considers this acquisition of nuclear capability by Iran an imminent threat to its existence owing to Iran's hostile approach towards the Jewish state. Grass vehemently argues that Israel should not be allowed to destabilize the whole region in particular and endanger world peace in general by launching military strike against Iran. In this regard, he asserts in his poem that Germany would be complicit in this crime if it continued selling submarines and other armaments to Israel enabling it to embark on this military misadventure.
The criticism deeming him an anti-Semite has offended Grass gravely as he tried to clarify his stance in several interviews since the poem was published last week. He acknowledged having made a mistake in his poem by using a sweeping statement, not discriminating between government and the state. '' I should have phrased my 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," insisted the 84 year old writer.
The newly-released poem of this literary artifact has ripped through the German conscience, which is still struggling to atone for the Jewish persecution during the Holocaust. It has polarized Germany's socio-political landscape by stirring controversy in the unsettled debate of exact parameters and definition of anti-Semitism. German foreign minister Guide Westerwelle attempted to drive a wedge between Grass' opinion and official German position on the matter by calling his poem absurd. "Putting Israel and Iran on the same moral level is not ingenious but absurd", told the minister in an interview with Germany's mass circulation tabloid, Bild.
On the other hand, eminent literary figures and historians not only in Germany but even in Israel are denouncing the Israeli government's decision to keep him out of Israel as unjustified and uncomfortable. "It's very unpleasant because it moves us in the direction of countries like Iran and Syria that apparently give out entry permits according to people's political views," opined Tom Segev, an acclaimed Israeli historian and columnist for the newspaper Haaretz.
The Nobel laureate Günter Grass is considered the leading post war German writer who, despite his brief Nazi association at the age of 17 during World War II, championed the cause of peace and humanity in his literary works. His magnum opus novel 'The Tin Drum' (1959), which centered on the theme of anti-war sentiments, brought him, along with his other work, the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999.