Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Nobel prize-winning author Gunter Grass offends Israel again

Nobel prize-winning German author Gunter Grass, declared persona non-grata by Israel over a poem saying it threatened world peace, has published another work critical of the Jewish state.

In one of a collection of 87 new pieces, Mr. Grass hails whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu, who served 18 years in jail for leaking Israeli nuclear secrets to a British newspaper, in a poem entitled A Hero in Our Time.

He describes Mr. Vanunu, a former nuclear technician, as a "hero" and a "role model," according to extracts published by the German news agency DPA.

Story continues below advertisement

Earlier this year, Mr. Grass, 84, angered Israel after publishing a piece entitled What Must Be Said, in which he voiced fears that a nuclear-armed Israel "could wipe out the Iranian people" with a "first strike."

Israel has since barred him from visiting the country.

Mr. Vanunu himself said that he was pleased to be mentioned by a writer of Mr. Grass's stature. "I am very happy to be in the league of Gunter Grass," he told AFP, speaking in English. Mr. Vanunu compared Israel's ban on a Grass visit to its refusal to let him leave the country.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor mocked Mr. Grass's poem as "surely no Schiller," adding that at least Mr. Grass had found in Mr. Vanunu one Israeli worthy of praise.

Mr. Grass, one of Germany's most influential intellectuals, sparked a firestorm of criticism at home and abroad in April for What Must Be Said.

Commentators said while criticism of Israeli government policies was legitimate, even in the aftermath of the Holocaust, Mr. Grass had offered up a one-sided portrayal of Israel as a bloodthirsty aggressor against Iran, which frequently issues diatribes against the Jewish state.

Mr. Grass achieved world fame with his debut novel, The Tin Drum, in 1959, and has pressed his country for decades to face up to its Nazi past. But he saw his substantial moral authority undermined by his 2006 admission, six decades after the Second World War, that he had been a member of Hitler's notorious Waffen SS as a 17-year-old.

Story continues below advertisement

Israel is widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed power in the Middle East, with between 100 and 300 warheads, but it has a policy of neither confirming nor denying it has an atomic arsenal.

Mr. Vanunu served 18 years behind bars for disclosing the inner workings of Dimona to Britain's Sunday Times newspaper in 1986. He was released in 2004, but banned from travel or contact with foreigners without prior permission. He has since been sanctioned more than 20 times for breaking the rules.

Report an error
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to