Tel Aviv artist Itay Zalait, 37, caused a stir on Tuesday after placing a golden statue of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in front of the Tel Aviv Municipality early Tuesday morning. It was toppled by an onlooker later in the day.
Overlooking Rabin Square, the four-meter tall structure twinkled as the sunlight hit its golden paint. A large crowd gathered in front of the sculpture snapping selfies and debating freedom of expression in public spaces.
Yet around 1 p.m. a bystander pushed the sculpture to the ground, causing pandemonium.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post
, Zalait said he was hoping to provoke public debate.
“The most important thing is to make people think and to not take things for granted. To imagine, without saying its good or bad, how does it feel to live in a country where a statue of the leader is in the center of the town? Right now this feels like provocation, but it could become reality.”
“In the social media, there have been tens of thousands of comments about ‘King Bibi,’” he said on Army Radio when asked what had inspired him to create the statue.
Zalait stood triumphantly near his statue and was accosted by supporters and detractors, one man accused him of “seeking to destroy the country,” while others yelled, “Well done! Well done!”
“The purpose is to put [Netanyahu] in a gold dress like he sees himself, like a king,” said resident Rafael Gordin, 76.
The statue, which sat on a white pedestal surrounded by a red velvet rope, was slapped with an evacuation notice by the municipality early Tuesday morning.
The Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality said in a statement that the statue was placed in Rabin Square without authorization and demanded its removal, “as is done when anything is placed in the public realm without coordination or authorization.”
Among those who gathered to view the spectacle was Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Arnon Giladi, who condemned the statue, telling the Post
’s sister Hebrew publication Ma’ariv
that it was “a cheap provocation by senseless people who are not willing to accept the decision of the voter. The same artists always make sure to speak loftily about freedom of expression, but only when it concerns a political position they support,” he added.
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev took to her Facebook page to call the sculpture “disconnected art, whose one golden calf is hatred of Netanyahu.”
Meanwhile, Zalait ventured that the fall of his statue might signal the future of Netanyahu’s political career.
“Maybe this statue is a prophecy,” he said.
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