A figure of a crucified Ronald McDonald.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER DEMIANCHUK)
The Department of Justice was forced to intervene Tuesday to prevent a threat by the Ministry of Culture to defund the Haifa Museum of Art.
“It is forbidden to block funding to cultural institutions because of the content they exhibit,” Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber wrote in a letter to Culture Minister Miri Regev Tuesday, reminding the minister that the government -- under most, if not all, circumstances -- could not interfere with the contents presented at cultural institutions because it provides financial support.
The letter, obtained by The Jerusalem Post, was a warning to Regev, who penned her own letter - also obtained by the Post - to the Haifa Museum on January 10 asking it to remove the sculpture of a crucified Ronald McDonald. The sculpture, designed by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen, sparked controversy last week that culminated in violent protests in Haifa on Friday.
Regev said the McJesus sculpture, part of the museum’s “Sacred Goods" show that opened in August, makes a “mockery of the crucifix, the most important religious symbol for Christians around the world,” and could not be protected under the laws of freedom of speech.
“This work,” Regev continued, “does not belong in a cultural institution supported by state funds.”
The sculpture of a crucified Ronald McDonald, which sparked violent protests
in Haifa on Friday, was never supposed to be in the Haifa Museum of Art in the first place, according to its artist, Leinonen.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel on January 11 contacted the Department of Justice on behalf of the museum.
“The Minister of Culture seems to have made a quantum leap,” wrote ACRI’s legal advisor, Dan Yakir. He said that while in the past the minister had instructed mayors or other elected officials to prevent cultural events when she did not like their content, it was beyond acceptable bounds to reach out directly to the museum. He said the move violated freedom of speech and expression.
“Regev’s move has no basis in the law,” Gilad Grossman, a spokesperson for ACRI told the Post.
Tuesday’s exchange occurred only days after artist Leinonen revealed to the Post that “my work is in the exhibition against my wishes.”
“I joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement
, that upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity,” Leinonen said. “Israel overtly uses culture as a form of propaganda to whitewash or justify its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid over the Palestinian people. Therefore, I do not wish to be part of this exhibition and I asked the museum to take my artwork off the exhibition.”
The Haifa Museum of Art said that the McJesus sculpture, as it is known, was borrowed from a gallery in Finland and was under contract to be in Israel.
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