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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.

Iran is the threat for world peace _ and Israel the only democracy in the entire region, and at the same time the world’s only whose right to exist is openly questioned,” said Charlotte Knobloch, a former leader of Germany’s Jewish community.

Efraim Zuroff, who leads the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, called Grass‘ poem “outrageous,” adding it appeared to be a sign of Israel “becoming the whipping boy for the frustrations of those who are sick of hearing about the Holocaust.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a staunch ally of Israel, and her spokesman reacted coolly to 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 Merkel’s Christian Democrats _ told the daily Mitteldeutsche Zeitung that Grass is a great author “but he always has difficulties when he speak about politics and mostly gets it wrong.”

“The country that worries us is Iran,” he was quoted as saying, adding that “his poem distracts attention from that.”

Grass’ assistant Hilke Ohsoling told German news agency dapd 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.

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Juergen Baetz can be reached on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jbaetz