Israel bans author Guenter Grass

Israel declares Guenter Grass persona non grata, deepening a spat with the Nobel-winning German author over a poem that deeply criticized the Jewish state and suggested it was as much a danger as Iran.

Foreign minister calls Nobel laureate an anti-Semite

Israel declared Guenter Grass persona non grata on Sunday, deepening a spat with the Nobel-winning author over a poem that deeply criticized the Jewish state and suggested it was as much a danger as Iran.

Guenter Grass's latest poem discusses Israel's nuclear program and calls the country a threat to world peace. ((Associated Press))

Grass's most famous book, The Tin Drum, is about the rise of the Nazis and the Second World War as told through the lives of ordinary people. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999.

Late in life, Grass, 84, admitted to a Nazi past. In a 2006 autobiography, he admitted he was drafted into the Waffen-SS Nazi paramilitary organization at age 17 in the final months of the Second World War.

Israel's dispute with Grass has drawn new attention to strains in Germany's complicated relationship with Israel — and also focused unwelcome light on Israel's own secretive nuclear program.

In a poem called What Must Be Said published last Wednesday, Grass criticized what he described as Western hypocrisy over Israel's nuclear program and labelled the country a threat to "already fragile world peace" over its belligerent stance on Iran.

The poem has touched a raw nerve in Israel, where officials have rejected any moral equivalence with Iran and been quick to Grass's subsequent clarification that his criticism was directed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not the country as a whole, did little to calm the outcry.

Accused of anti-Semitism

On Sunday, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced that Grass would be barred from Israel, citing an Israeli law that allows him to prevent entry to ex-Nazis.

But Yishai made clear the decision was related more to the recent poem than Grass's actions nearly 70 years ago, when he was involuntarily conscripted into the German war apparatus.

"If Guenter wants to spread his twisted and lying works, I suggest he does this from Iran, where he can find a supportive audience," Yishai said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Grass of anti-Semitism.

The uproar has touched upon some of the most sensitive issues in modern-day Israel: the Holocaust, Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons and Israel's own illicit nuclear program that is widely believed to have produced an arsenal of bombs.

It also has unleashed a debate in Germany, where criticism of Israel is largely muffled because of the country's Nazi past.

According to a biography from his museum in Germany, Grass has been in Israel at least once — notably accompanying Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1973 on the first official state visit of a German chancellor to Israel.