Germany Official: Israel’s Reaction to Grass' Criticism 'Exaggerated'

German Health Minister criticizes Nobel laureate for his controversial poem, saying it was sad to see that someone experienced post-war Germany 'remains marked by so much prejudice and stubbornness.'

A minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel's German government has described as "exaggerated" an Israeli visa ban on Nobel Literature laureate Gunter Grass, a report said Monday.

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"I cannot imagine that Mr. Grass has any interest in showing up in Israel after the explicit criticism he has faced in Germany," said Daniel Bahr, the health minister, in an interview to appear Tuesday in the daily Die Welt.

The minister, who also criticized Grass, was apparently not speaking for the government. He is a senior member of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), a junior partner in Merkel's cabinet. Die Welt issued a summary to other media in advance of publication.

Grass is persona non grata in Israel, Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced Sunday after Grass criticized the country in a poem.

Attacking Grass, Bahr said it was "sad to see that someone who has experienced all the controversies of post-war Germany remains marked by so much prejudice and stubbornness." But he called the visa ban an "utterly exaggerated" response, Die Welt said.

Grass' poem, "What must be said," claimed Israel was preparing a first strike to "wipe out the Iranian people" as it attempts to derail Iran's nuclear weapons program. The novelist, 84, is widely regarded as Germany's greatest living writer.

Renate Kunast, co-leader of the opposition Green Party in parliament, criticized Grass for his refusal to recognize that Israel was threatened by Iran, but she also deplored Yishai's move.

"It means everyone will end up discussing the ban instead of Grass's views," she told DPA.

Israel is deeply concerned about Tehran's nuclear program, coupled with repeated vows by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders to wipe the Jewish state off the map.

Speculation has been growing in recent months that Israel intends to launch a military strike at Iran's nuclear facilities, to end, or at least retard significantly, Iran's drive toward atomic weapons.

Grass has been furiously attacked in Germany over the poem. Early Saturday, someone daubed graffiti on a sculpture in the city of Gottingen commemorating free speech which Grass commissioned and donated. The red paint called on him to "shut your mouth."