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Netanyahu slams German writer's comments on Israel

April 5, 2012 10:05 P.M. (Updated: April 7, 2012 2:38 P.M.)
By: Ori Lewis
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday it was no surprise that German writer Guenter Grass, who for decades had hidden his membership of the Nazi Waffen SS, had described Israel as a threat to world peace.

In a poem published earlier this week, the Nobel Prize-winning writer criticized Israel and said it must not be allowed to launch military strikes against Iran.

"Guenter Grass's 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 from Netanyahu's office said.

Grass, 84, a seasoned campaigner for left-wing causes and a critic of Western military interventions, such as in Iraq, also condemned German arms sales to Israel in his poem "What must be said", that was published on Wednesday.

"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," Netanyahu added.

Grass's words were also criticized in Germany, where any strong condemnation of Israel is taboo because of the Nazi-perpetrated Holocaust. Grass's own moral authority has never fully recovered from his 2006 admission that he once served in Hitler's SS.

"Why do I say only now ... that the nuclear power Israel endangers an already fragile world peace? Because that must be said which may already be too late to say tomorrow," Grass wrote in the German-language poem.

"Also because we - as Germans burdened enough - may become a subcontractor to a crime that is foreseeable," he wrote, adding that Germany's Nazi past and the Holocaust were no excuse for remaining silent now about Israel's nuclear capability.

"I will not remain silent because I am weary of the West's hypocrisy," wrote Grass, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999 for novels such as "The Tin Drum" chronicling the horrors of 20th century German history.

Israel is widely assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed nation, which it neither confirms nor denies. These could be carried by Dolphin submarines that it has bought, at a sharp discount, from Germany.

Action against Iran

Israel has threatened to take military action, with or without US support, to halt what it sees as a nuclear threat from Iran. Tehran says it is developing nuclear technology for purely peaceful purposes.

"It is Iran, not Israel, that is a threat to the peace and security of the world. It is Iran, not Israel, that threatens other states with annihilation ... decent people everywhere should strongly condemn these ignorant and reprehensible statements," Netanyahu added.

Germany said recently it would sell Israel a sixth Dolphin submarine and shoulder part of the cost, although it also cautioned its ally that any military escalation with Iran could bring incalculable risks.

One of the most powerful organizations in Nazi Germany, the SS was first an elite force of volunteers that played a key role in the Holocaust, operating the death camps in which millions died. But by the war's end, most were drafted and many under 18 years old.

Grass said he was called up to join the SS as a teenager and insisted that he never fired a shot. But some critics inside and outside Germany said this explanation had come too late.

Grass made the confession shortly before publishing his autobiography "Peeling Onions" which details his war service.
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