(photo credit: REUTERS)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Tuesday ordered the police to open an investigation of possible incitement over a poster displayed at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design that depicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next to a hangman’s noose.
The poster, the work of a student that hung in an internal exhibit at the academy, provoked indignation from politicians on Monday and has since been removed.
The poster showed Netanyahu’s image superimposed on a red and blue backdrop with the word “Rope” printed on the bottom, in a play on US President Barack Obama’s campaign posters with the message of “Hope.”
Mandelblit made the decision pursuant to the recommendation of State Attorney Shai Nitzan and the Israel Police.
Politicians from across the political spectrum were quick to condemn the poster as an act of incitement. Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud) called to cancel state funding to Bezalel.
“Freedom of art is not freedom to incite,” she wrote.
“It began with a statue in the city square, and now it has come to a noose,” she said, referring to a gold statue of Netanyahu that was erected and then torn down last week in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
Regev said it was “artistic talent to incite and murder,” adding that if it had been a poster of opposition leader Isaac Herzog the perpetrators would have already been arrested.
“I call on Education Minister Naftali Bennett and say: The time has come that you also place a boundary between art and incitement and halt the budgets to Bezalel,” she said.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog also released a statement saying he “utterly condemns” the poster. “Freedom of expression is important and necessary, but there is no place to use it to incite to harm public leaders on the Right or the Left,” he said.
“Especially during these days of militancy, we are committed to responsibility. This is not our way: We will replace Netanyahu through democratic means only.”
Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid said the Bezalel exhibit was “bad art” and “an ugly and dangerous attempt to grab headlines through violence.”
Bezalel issued a response in light of the event and said: "Bezalel Academy of Art and Design Jerusalem is a safe space for freedom of expression in Israel and allows students free speech, critical and creative, in a variety of subjects that concern them."
The school said that the work was hung up in the stairway and was composed of a number of posters surrounding documentary photography of a poster inciting against the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Next to the work a piece of paper hung with the phrase: "It's called incitement..."
"It is still unclear, and we are inquiring, whether this is an exercise as part of a course or the individual articulation of a student, but either way this is an internal expression in within the framework of the academy, as part of an ongoing discussion on issues of design, art and culture, including the issues of borders, reproduction of images and memory," the statement read.
The schools explained that the work “corresponds with some familiar figures of significance and weight, including the memory of incitement against Rabin, and the famous poster of President Obama with the word 'hope'.”
"The exercise, more or less successful, is part of a profession discussion, hanging on an internal wall of the stairs in the academy and is not exhibited publicly, nor as political incitement and that is how it should be judged."
The academy noted that the work had been removed, seemingly by the student who had designed it, "most likely due to the severe interpretation given to the image by the media."
"It is clear that Bezalel opposes any expression that has incitement and violence, but will continue to promote and encourage free and critical discourse and the arts," the statement read.Lahav Harkov and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.