JERUSALEM — Israel’s interior minister Sunday barred German author Gunter Grass from entering the country, in response to a new poem in which the Nobel laureate called Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal a threat to world peace.
The case was the latest of several in recent years in which Israel has refused entry to controversial figures critical of its policies.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai said in a written statement that Grass’ poem, published Wednesday, “is an attempt to fan the flames of hatred against Israel and the Jewish people, and thus promote the idea with which he was publicly affiliated in the past when he wore the SS uniform.”
Grass disclosed in 2006 that he was drafted toward the end of World War II to serve in the Nazi Waffen SS unit. A spokesman for Yishai said that was the technical basis for the entry ban.
“If Gunter wishes to continue propagating his distorted and false works, I suggest he do so from Iran, where he will find a supportive audience,” said Yishai, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.
Grass’ poem, titled “What Must Be Said,” was published in the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, provoking Israeli condemnations and criticism in Germany, where the memory of the Holocaust constrains public debate about Israel and infuses the complex relationship between the two countries.
Referring to Israeli threats of military action against Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes, Grass warned against “the alleged right to first strike that could annihilate the Iranian people … because in their territory, it is suspected, a bomb is being built.”
In the poem, Grass, 84, said he had remained silent about Israel’s nuclear capability because of fear that he would be labeled an anti-Semite.
“Why do I say only now, aged and with my last drop of ink, that the nuclear power of Israel endangers an already fragile world peace?” Grass wrote. “Because what must be said may be too late tomorrow.”
Grass warned that by supplying Israel with submarines that could carry nuclear “all-destroying warheads,” Germany risked complicity in “a foreseeable crime.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has compared Iran’s nuclear program and threats against Israel to the Holocaust, promptly accused Grass of drawing a “shameful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran.”
“It is Iran, not Israel, that is a threat to the peace and security of the world,” Netanyahu said. “It is Iran, not Israel, that threatens other states with annihilation.”
Noting Grass’ service in the SS, Netanyahu added that it was “perhaps not surprising” 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.”