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“What must also be said is that Israel is the world’s only nation whose right to exist is publicly questioned,” the Israeli Embassy in Germany said in a statement. “We want to live in peace with our neighbors in the region.”

Guenter Grass is turning the situation upside-down by defending a brutal regime that not only disregards but openly violates international agreements for many years,” said Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee in Berlin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a staunch ally of Israel, and her spokesman reacted coolly to Mr. Grass‘ remarks.

“There is artistic freedom in Germany, and there thankfully also is the freedom of the government not to have to comment on every artistic production,” Steffen Seibert said.

The head of the German Parliament’s foreign affairs committee — lawmaker Ruprecht Polenz, a member of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats — told the daily Mitteldeutsche Zeitung that while Mr. Grass is a great author, “he always has difficulties when he speaks about politics and mostly gets it wrong.”

Mr. Grass‘ assistant Hilke Ohsoling told a German news agency Wednesday that the author won’t explain or defend his poem, nor does he plan to comment on the reactions in the near future because of health issues.