THE ORIGINAL Bezalel installation showing posters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surrounding a poster portraying Yitzhak Rabin as a traitor and a note that reads “they call this incitement.”.
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
The politicians barked and bayed, the attorney-general duly did their bidding, the police called in an 18-yearold art student and we ended up this week with one of the most ludicrous incidents that the 21st Knesset has served up so far – and it has served up a few.
The usual suspects Miri Regev and Naftali Bennett were both hollering at the front of the pack after a first-year student at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design put up a work that played on American graphic designer Shepard Fairey’s “Hope poster” of Barack Obama from the 2008 presidential campaign, replacing Obama with Netanyahu, the word Hope with Rope and adding a noose dangling in front of the image of the prime minister.
“The time has come to set a boundary between art and incitement,” Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev – who has used her term in office to declare war on culture – wrote in a facebook post, and called on Bennett to “cut funding to Bezalel.”
The education minister duly replied in a post of his own that “if people don’t know how to set themselves boundaries, then others will set them for them.” Clearly the education minister would like the degenerates among us to go stand in the corner and learn how to think properly.
Next in line was Public Security Minister Gilat Erdan, who tweeted that “unfortunately it is the state prosecutor who has the authority to decide whether or not to order an investigation into matters of incitement.”
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit duly obliged, an investigation was opened and the first-year student called in for questioning under caution.
One can only imagine what that looked like: Investigator leaning forward bringing his face almost nose to nose with suspect and in a booming voice, shouts out: Were you influenced by Shepard Fairey? Suspect seated opposite investigator with a light bulb hanging just above her head and trembling: Yes.
Investigator pacing around the room: So you are inspired by socialist realism? Suspect, with trepidation: Sorry, that’s social realism Investigator leaning on the table: Don’t correct me.
Investigator pacing around again: Do you believe in art as a weapon of political warfare? Suspect, brashly quoting George Orwell: “The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”
Well, that conversation probably never took place, but our first-year art student would have been right, because what Regev, Bennett and company are trying to do is exactly to politicize art, culture and academia in order to set the boundaries of what people should be thinking and what they say.
Haim Schein, writing in the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom tabloid, inadvertently hit on exactly what kind of art Regev, Bennett & Co would like to see when he described how Bezalel in its early days focused on the decorative arts and called for more Jewish and Israeli art.
Sorry, Mr. Schein, but who are you and who are Regev and Bennett to dictate what constitutes Israeli art or even Jewish art for that matter and what culture we should consume? Regev, who is as media savvy as they come – after all she is a former IDF chief spokesman and chief censor for those who forgot – knew exactly what she was doing when she posted just a picture of Netanyahu and the noose, taking the work completely out of context.
In fact, students had been asked to use an existing poster as an inspiration for a graphic design; the offending student had hung a dozen copies of the Rope poster surrounding a copy of a poster titled “Rabin the Traitor” that was displayed at the infamous 1995 rally where Rabin was also portrayed in an SS uniform, with a note underneath saying “They call this incitement.”
Had Regev, Bennett & Co wanted to hold a legitimate non-politicized debate they could have focused on the artistic merits or lack of it in the work in question.
They could, to paraphrase American artist Robert Florczak, have asked how is that the profound, the inspiring and the beautiful have been replaced by the new, the different, and the ugly and how is it that the silly, the pointless, and the purely offensive are held up as the best of modern art.
But, again, it is to set the boundaries of debate and thought that they really desire and they have been successful, too.
Instead of calling out the farce for what it is, politicians on the center and left lined up to offer their condemnations of the offending instillation.
Ironically it took another Bezalel to put things in perspective – Bezalel Smotrich, perhaps the most far-right nationalist politician in the Knesset.
“Is this for real?” tweeted Smotrich.
“They arrested the artist from Bezalel? On what grounds exactly? An investigation is one thing – even that’s too much – but an arrest?! Democracy?! Israel Police, you’ve lost your mind!!”