Ultra-nationalist Zhirinovsky makes controversial Israel visit

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JERUSALEM — Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultra-nationalist Russian politician known for outlandish antics, anti-Semitic comments and friendship with Saddam Hussein, arrived in Israel on Monday. He immediately let loose with a volley of provocative pronouncements.

"Anyone who says I am an anti-Semite is using propaganda against me," he said at the airport. "That is not right. I am not an anti-Semite or a fascist. The Jews are very smart and very talented, more than anyone in the world. I am not a provocateur.

"Sometimes it is good to sting and even pour water on people, or give them a light slap on the back. The problem, especially with women, is that if you touch their hair, they automatically scream that you attacked them.

"I am for you, not against you. Everything they attributed to me in the past — the anti-Semitic expressions — is in the past. That is not what I think now."

Zhirinovsky said he was happy to be in Israel, especially during a time when a war threatens the region, and that he came out of an obligation to assist and help as much as he can.

"I was in Iraq three times over the last year, and I can say clearly that Saddam has no desire to attack Israel, nor does he have the ability to do so," he said.

A Foreign Ministry official said the ministry decided to grant Zhirinovsky a visa after concluding the harm of denying him one would be worse than letting him visit.

The official said the ministry was concerned that denying entry to Zhirinovsky, who is deputy speaker of the Duma, the Russian parliament, would have created a "diplomatic incident" with the Duma, something Israel wanted to avoid.

"It was the right decision because there is no reason in the world to create a gimmick by denying him entrance or arresting him at the border," Deputy Immigration Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein said. "He's here, he should be well, and he should be treated with a smile. But we can't react seriously to his visit because we are talking about one of the clowns of Russian politics."