Sharon backs art-wrecking ambassador

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The Independent Online

Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister, has supported his ambassador to Sweden, who vandalised an installation in a Stockholm exhibition that featured a Palestinian woman suicide bomber.

Mr Sharon said yesterday: "The entire government stands behind him. Our ambassador did the right thing. The phenomenon which we saw there is so grave that it was forbidden not to react to it."

Zvi Mazel, a career diplomat, was attending the opening of a government-sponsored show on Friday with his wife when he took offence at an installation featuring a photograph of the bomber, Hanadi Jaradat, a 29-year-old lawyer who killed 21 Israelis in a restaurant in Haifa last year. The image "Snow White and the Madness of Truth" was floating in a toy boat in a rectangular pool of red liquid. Mr Mazel angrily disconnected the spotlights illuminating the display and flung them into the pool.

Mr Mazel shouted at the artist Dror Feiler: "This is praise of a suicide terrorist and the whole institution of suicide. Shame on you! You are a clear hater of Israel and dedicate your time to a terror attack and bad-mouthing Israel."

He told Israeli reporters later: "I could not breathe when I saw the photograph of the terrorist, who was represented as Snow White with an angelic smile, sailing on the blood of our children, our families that she murdered. I felt I had to do it because it is the continuation of a succession of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli acts that are taking place here almost every day. As far as I am concerned, Feiler is an extremist and not an Israeli. He accepted the Palestinian side and deliberately ignored the Israeli side."

Mr Feiler, an Israeli who has lived in Sweden for 30 years, insisted that the sculpture was against violence. He said: "The ambassador caused diplomatic and political damage to the state of Israel by being an intellectual dwarf and behaving like a street peddler."

Mr Mazel has been summoned to the Swedish Foreign Ministry today and is expected to be reprimanded for undiplomatic conduct.

But Robert Rydberg, the Swedish ambassador to Israel, tried to downplay the incident yesterday. He said: "The piece is about a Palestinian woman having murdered innocent civilians. It is not a justification of suicide bombings. It is in my view an example of bad taste, but I think the whole issue has been blown out of proportion."

Mr Mazel's violent reaction, which he admitted was premeditated, drew widespread support back home. Video footage of the incident was relayed on Israeli television.

Ben Caspit, a political commentator, wrote in the newspaper Ma'ariv: "Mazel ought not to have done it, but it is hard to be angry with him. His hand, which pulled out the plug, was the hand of all of us."

Tova Bahat, whose husband was killed and three-year-old son critically wounded in the explosion, said: "I'm sorry the artist was not sitting in the restaurant and copped it."

Mr Feiler responded: "Although I do not justify the suicide attackers, I can definitely understand them. They have nothing to live for, so they look for something to die for. That is twisted logic, it is absolutely dreadful, but that is their reality, which we are also guilty of creating. Israelis have also committed crimes against Palestinians." The Israeli Government approved yesterday the controversial appointment of another diplomat, Zvi Hefetz, a Russian-born tycoon, as ambassador to London. Mr Hefetz, 47, represented the business interests of the fugitive Russian media magnate, Vladimir Gussinsky, in Israel and is a friend of the Prime Minister's son, Omri Sharon. Anglo-Jewish leaders, frustrated by ambassadors who performed poorly on television, had questioned whether his spoken English was up to it.

¿ Israeli ministers considered yesterday changing the route of the planned wall in the West Bank, which has been referred to the International Court of Justice by the United Nations. Israel plans to challenge the court's jurisdiction and argue that the fence is necessary to keep out suicide bombers. Critics suggested their case would be stronger if the fence was closer to the pre-1967 border.