Netanyahu slams German writer's comments on Israel

Ori Lewis

* Israeli leader calls new Guenter Grass poem "shameful"

* Poet said Israel endangered world peace

JERUSALEM, April 5 (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 criticised 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 criticised 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.


The Jewish state has threatened to take military action,

with or without U.S. 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 organisations 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.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Ben Harding)