Gunter Grass
Gunter Grass Reuters

German poet Gunter Grass hit back Thursday at what he called a “campaign” by his critics, AFP reported.

The 84-year-old sparked outrage at home and abroad on Wednesday when he published a poem called “What must be said” in a newspaper. In the poem, Grass said he feared a nuclear-armed Israel “could wipe out the Iranian people” with a “first strike.” He also charged Israel with being the greatest threat to world peace.

AFP quoted Grass as having said in separate interviews that the media had piled on him without understanding his message and adding that although he found the personal accusations against him “hurtful”, he had no plans to back down.

In an interview with public broadcaster NDR, Grass said, “The tenor throughout is, ‘don’t focus at all on the content of the poem’ but rather, conduct a campaign against me and claim that my reputation is now damaged for all time.”

He added, “I have noticed that in a democratic country with press freedom that people are expected to toe the line and that there is a refusal to address the content and the questions I raise here.”

Grass also said that he was particularly stung by the widespread accusations of anti-Semitism against him in the German media.

“That is quite hurtful and not worthy of a democratic press,” he said.

In a second interview he gave, this time to public broadcaster 3sat, Grass said he was being “pilloried” but had “no plans to recant” what he said in the poem.

He acknowledged that it would have been better not to speak of Israel but rather of “the current government of Israel,” according to excerpts released by the channel.

Grass said a closer reader of the poem “would recognize my concern about the future of this country which has a right to exist.”

Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu blasted Grass and said, “Gunter 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.

“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.

“It is Iran, not Israel, that supports terror organizations that fire rockets on innocent civilians.

“It is Iran, not Israel, that is supporting the Syrian regime's massacre of its own people.

“It is Iran, not Israel, that stones women, hangs gays and brutally represses tens of millions of its own citizens.”