Exhibit featuring controversial art opens in Knesset

MK Eldad: Painting strengthens Nakba narrative; Rivlin says newly purchased works of art "display variety in Israeli society."

May 31, 2011 19:29
2 minute read.
The Citrus Grower sparks controversy at Knesset

The Citrus Grower 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin marked the opening on Tuesday of a new art exhibit in the Knesset’s hallways, which sparked debate on its depiction of an Arab family in Jaffa during the pre-state era.

In his remarks at the exhibit’s opening ceremony, Rivlin compared art and politics, saying that in “a sad and parallel process in the current era” the public has lost interest in both topics.

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The exhibit, titled “Israeli Texture,” is the result of an open call to the public to submit works of art for purchase by the Knesset.

Over 500 artists answered the call – the first of its kind in the Knesset – and 46 works by 31 Israeli artists were chosen. The idea was suggested by MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima), and adopted by Rivlin.

The exhibit courted controversy after the paintings were hung in the Knesset’s halls in early May.

After the exhibit’s paintings were hung two weeks ago, MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) demanded that one of the 46 works on display be removed, claiming it glorifies the Arab narrative.

The painting in question, “The Citrus Grower,” by artist Eliyahu Arik Bokobza, is based on a photograph of an Arab family in Jaffa from 1939.

“The innocent, the naïve and the stupid among us may say: What’s wrong with that?” Eldad wrote in a letter to Rivlin.

“You are not in any of those categories. You, like me, understand what organizations are trying to achieve in strengthening the Arab narrative.”

Eldad added that the painting is “telling us that we banished the Arabs – we exiled them,” and said that even if Rivlin is careful to protect freedom of expression “you do not have to be a tool in the hands of the knights of the ‘Nakba.’” “I don’t understand why you are turning the Knesset into a stage for presenting their lie,” Eldad concluded. “I beg of you, do not let this supposedly innocent ‘Nakba picture’ hang in the Knesset.”

Rivlin did not heed Eldad’s call, saying that the picture “is open to interpretation. It does not express a clear political stance.”

“Just like I let you express yourself in the Knesset, I have to let every other opinion be heard,” Rivlin told Eldad.

“The Knesset, which represents all layers of the Israeli population, is proud to present contemporary art on its walls that displays the variety in Israeli society,” Rivlin said.

“I hope that from now on, art lovers will visit the Knesset and find impressive, modern art in the arena for exchanging opinions and ideas,” he concluded.

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