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Grass poem sparks Israel travel ban

Israel has declared Gunter Grass persona non grata, deepening a spat with the Nobel-winning author over a poem which criticised the Jewish state and suggested it was as much a danger as Iran.

The dispute with 84-year-old Grass, who only late in life admitted to a Nazi past, has drawn new attention to strains in Germany's complicated relationship with the Jewish state - and also focused unwelcome light on Israel's own secretive nuclear programme.

In a poem called What Must Be Said published last Wednesday, Grass criticised what he described as Western hypocrisy over Israel's nuclear programme 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 note that Grass admitted only in a 2006 autobiography that he was drafted into the Waffen-SS Nazi paramilitary organisation at age 17 in the final months of the Second World War.

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.

On Sunday, Israel's 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 Mr Yishai made clear the decision was related more to the recent poem than Grass's actions nearly 70 years ago.

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

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. 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.

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