Nobel Laureate Risks Ban by Israel but Curries Favor with Iran
The recently published poem by the German Nobel laureate Gunter Grass on the nuclear programmes in Israel and Iran has raised controversy in the media and among politicians in the two countries.
It was called "pathetic" and "shameful" in Israel, but was praised in Iran as a "beautiful warning". Grass defended his work and said it was intended to criticize the Israeli government and not the people.
The poem entitled What Must Be Said appeared in many European newspapers last week. It criticized western hypocrisy over Israel's nuclear programme and described Tel Aviv's position towards Iran, including its warnings that it could launch the "first strike", as a "threat to the already fragile world peace".
The words of the 84-year-old poet received strong criticism in Israel, where the Foreign Ministry described it as "pathetic".
"The transition of Grass from fiction to science fiction is in very poor taste; his poem is pathetic and totally lacking grace," ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor was quoted as telling AFP.
"The comparison between Israel and Iran is unfair because, unlike Iran, Israel has never threatened to wipe another country off the map," Israeli historian Tom Segev wrote in Haaretz daily newspaper, referring to 2005 comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad widely translated into English as meaning the Jewish state should be "wiped off the map".
But the poem was praised in Iran. Deputy Culture Minister Javad Shamaqdari wrote a letter addressed to the "distinguished author Dr Gunter Grass," in which he said "I read your literary work of human and historical responsibility, and it warns beautifully."
"Telling the truth in this way may awake the silent and dormant conscience of the West. Writers are able to single-handedly prevent human tragedies in a way that armies cannot."
‘Years of warnings'
Iran stresses its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes only, denying western charges that it could be used for military purposes. Tehran's controversial nuclear programme has raised many concerns in western countries and has made Israel nervous.
Some Israeli officials have warned that they won't allow Iran to become a nuclear power and have threatened to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran. Warnings and threats between the two countries have been going on for several years. Israel, on the other hand, is widely believed to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons which it has never officially admitted.
Shortly after the poem was published and raised debate, the left-leaning Grass explained in an interview with Sueddeutsche Zeitung, one of the largest German newspapers, that he sought to single out Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, whose policies are "creating even more enemies of Israel, and are even more increasing the country's isolation".
"The man who damages Israel the most at the moment, in my opinion, is Netanyahu — and I should have included that in the poem," Grass was quoted as saying.
By Jumana Al Tamimi
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