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Nobelist's poetic dart at Israel stirs storm

Nobel laureate Gunter Grass triggered a storm Wednesday with a poem criticizing Israeli threats to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.

The German novelist, who won the 1999 Nobel Prize in literature, described Israel as a "cause of recognizable danger" and called on readers to "urge it to renounce force."

The poem was published by the Germany daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Regarded for half a century as Germany's greatest living writer, Grass, 84, appealed for Israeli and Iranian nuclear assets to be brought under "unhindered and permanent monitoring by an international institution."

Grass, a liberal leftist with an appetite for political controversy, alleged in the poem that Israel sought a first strike that would "wipe out the Iranian people, who are oppressed by a loudmouth" -- an apparent reference to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He said he was "fed up with the hypocrisy of the West."

Germany's Central Council of Jews responded that it was saddened by the "aggressive" and "irresponsible" poem.

"An outstanding author is far from being an outstanding analyst of Middle East politics," said council Chairman Dieter Graumann, saying Grass had muddled his facts by alleging that Israel, not Iran, was the threat to peace.

Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee in Berlin, said Grass was defending a "brutal regime" in Iran. She said the issue was not whether it was permissible to criticize Israel, as Grass contended, but how to treat dictators. The free-form, non-rhyming poem also criticized the German government for the recent sale to Israel of a further Dolphin-class submarine.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, declined to comment on the row, telling reporters that -- analogous to artistic freedom -- governments enjoyed the freedom "not to have to offer opinions about every opinion."

"Why am I only saying now, in old age, with my last ink, that the nuclear power Israel is endangering world peace which is already fragile?" the poem said. It argued he had been in denial out of fear that he would be accused of anti-Semitism.

Grass' 1958 novel, "The Tin Drum," was an indictment of Germans in the Nazi era.

A scandal over Grass broke out in 2006 when he revealed in his autobiography that he had volunteered at age 17 to be a soldier in the Waffen SS and fought in World War II. He had not previously disclosed the episode. This led some critics to accuse him of hypocrisy during his literary career when he had assailed the lingering influence of ex-Nazis on Germany.

Emmanuel Nahshon, an envoy at the Israeli Embassy, said the allegation -- just before the feast of Passover -- that Israel wanted to wipe out the Iranian people belonged to a European anti-Semitic tradition of accusing Jews of "ritual murder."