Israel has declared the 84-year-old Nobel Prize-winning German poet Günter Grass a persona non grata.
On 7 April 2012, Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared Günter Grass a persona non grata in Israel because he published a poem claiming that Israel is endangering world peace by threatening Iran. Eli Yishai said in a statement that Günter Grass’ poem entitled ‘What Must Be Said’, published in Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and other international papers, was 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,” and called his work “distorted and false”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Günter Grass in a statement saying: “Gunter Grass’s 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.”
In an interview published in Germany Günter Grass said that his poem should have been phrased differently to make it clear that his poem targeted the current Israeli government, not Israel as a whole.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote in its leading column that “the emotions are understandable, but the Interior Minister’s reaction is hysterical.”
Columnist Daniel Bettini also criticized Eli Yishai:
“Rather than sit back and enjoy the media offensive against Grass’ highly problematic statements about Israel’s threat to world peace, Yishai has now succeeded to get the fire directed at Israel. Now we’re the villain, who, like the Iranians, do not respect freedom of expression.”
Günter Grass is winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in literature.
In 2006, Grass acknowledged that he had served in a division of the Waffen-SS.