Grass compares Israel to Myanmar, East Germany after entry ban

Bloomberg reports: Guenter Grass, the Nobel Prize winning author of “The Tin Drum,” compared the ban on his entering Israel to his treatment by dictatorships in Myanmar and East Germany in an article for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

On April 8, Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared Grass persona non grata and barred him from entering Israel, after Germany’s best-known living writer published a poem calling the nation’s nuclear capacity a threat to world peace.

“I have been denied entry into a country three times,” Grass wrote in the short article, which was pre-released by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung before its publication tomorrow. He compared the wording of Yishai’s ruling to the tone of his ban by Erich Mielke, the minister in charge of East Germany’s Stasi, or secret police.

Grass wrote that the experience would not erase fond memories of his journeys to Israel, a country to which he still felt “irrevocably bound.” He repeated his criticism of Israel. “As a nuclear power of uncontrolled dimensions, the Israeli government acts only on its own authority and heeds no reprimands,” Grass wrote.

Alex Pearlman writes: Grass’ controversial past could explain away Israel’s actions against that German writer in particular. But it isn’t just the poem. Israel has a free speech problem.

In 2010 renowned professor and linguist Noam Chomsky was banned from entry to Israel after an attempt to give a lecture at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. Norman Finkelstein, also a Jewish professor, was arrested, deported, and banned from Israel for 10 years in 2008. [Here’s a slideshow of more controversial critics of Israel who have been banned from entering the country.]

“The decision to prevent someone from voicing their opinions by arresting and deporting them is typical of a totalitarian regime,” said Oded Peler, a lawyer for Israel’s Association for Civil Rights to the Guardian after Finkelstein’s deportation. “A democratic state, where freedom of expression is the highest principle, does not shut out criticism or ideas just because they are uncomfortable for its authorities to hear. It confronts those ideas in public debate.”

And it isn’t just Israel itself that has a free speech problem — the modus operandi of Israel’s supporters in the US has long been to use all means possible to silence Israel’s critics.

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