Nobel Laureate Under Fire Grass Says Campaign Against Him 'Injurious'

German Nobel laureate Günter Grass has taken to the airwaves to address the raging controversy surrounding his new poem, which is sharply critical of Israel. Yet the debate continues to broaden, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joining the fray on Thursday.
Günter Grass has triggered an international debate with a new poem about Israel and Iran.

Günter Grass has triggered an international debate with a new poem about Israel and Iran.


One day after the tempest created in Germany by the publication of a poem critical of Israel, Günter Grass on Thursday defended himself against his critics. The Nobel Prize in literature recipient said he feels he has been misunderstood by critics who are conducting a campaign against him. "The overall tenor is to not engage in the content of the poem, but instead to wage a campaign against me and to claim that my reputation is damaged forever," Grass said in an interview with a German public broadcaster on Thursday.

In his poem, "What Must Be Said," published in Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung and two other major European newspapers, Grass is sharply critical of Israel's policies towards Iran. With his statement that the "Israel's atomic power endangers an already fragile world peace," the 84-year-old triggered global controversy.

The broadcast is scheduled to air on Thursday night, but NDR released some of Grass' quotes in advance. "Old clichés are being bestirred, and some of them are injurious," Grass said. He said that, as he hinted would happen in the poem, the term "anti-Semitism" has quickly been used against him. "It has occurred to me that in a democratic country in which freedom of the press prevails, there is a certain forced conformity which stands in the foreground along with a refusal to even consider the content and the questions that I cite."

'Injurious and Unworthy'

The author also references an editorial in a paper published by conservative German publishing giant Axel Springer. "The term eternal anti-Semite was used in a Springer newspaper, an inversion of the 'eternal Jew'," Grass said. "That's already injurious and unworthy of the democratic press."

In an editorial in the Bild tabloid, Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner, one of Germany's leading executives, wrote that Grass is "using the murmuring tone of a moralist to disseminate just one thing: politically correct anti-Semitism. He's trying to qualify the guilt of Germany by turning the Jews into perpetrators."

Earlier on Wednesday, Grass' personal secretary had said the Nobel Prize-winning author would not make any statement on the poem. "Mr. Grass said in his poem what he wants to say and won't make any further statement about it for now because of health problems," Hilke Ohsoling had said Wednesday.

But criticism of Grass continued to grow around the world on Thursday. An official English translation of the poem is still being completed.

Outrage in Israel , Praise in Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the poem with particularly harsh words. "Günter Grass' 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," a statement released by Netanyahu's office read. "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."

However, Grass did receive praise from one source: Iran. Iranian state broadcaster Press TV reported on Thursday that, "Never in the history of postwar Germany has a prominent intellectual attacked Israel in such a brave way as Günter Grass with his controversial new poem. Metaphorically, the Nobelist has delivered a lethally lyrical strike against Israel."

Within the Western media, however, there has been widespread condemnation of Grass' poem, with critics describing it as a form of "politically correct anti-Semitism" and "document of vengeance."

German TV Interviews Planned

Israeli historian Tom Segev has emerged as one of the strongest critics. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, he said he has the impression that Grass is driven largely by his decades of silence about his membership in the SS during the final days of World War II.

Grass, who is 84 and lives in the village of Behlendorf near Lübeck, now plans to address the poem in two televised interviews on Thursday night.

On Thursday, Grass did find one defender -- the president of the Berlin-based Academy of Arts, a respected institution that has counted Goethe and Brecht among its past members. "One must be allowed to express clear words without being denounced as an enemy of Israel," President Klaus Staeck told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

In his poem, Grass said he had been silent for too long. "I've broken my silence," he wrote.

dsl -- with wire reports
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