TEL AVIV – An Israeli art student who exhibited posters featuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a noose and the word “Rope” surrounding another poster of assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was investigated for incitement by Jerusalem police on Tuesday evening.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit wasordered the police probe, the Times of Israel reported.
According to Israel’s Channel 2, the first-year art student at Bezalel academy was not likely to be indicted since the art work was produced more out of “naiveté” than a deliberate act of incitement.
The academic director of Bezalel was also questioned.
The poster was a nod to a campaign poster of President Barack Obama, with the word “Hope” replaced with “Rope.” The image of Rabin in the center had the word “Traitor” emblazoned in Hebrew, taken from a rightwing demonstration days before his 1995 assassination.
Eli Hazan, a director of communications and international relations for Netanyahu’s Likud party, posted a photo of only part of the artwork – the image of Netanyahu with the noose – on his Facebook page, asking, “Is this being exhibited as art?”
“Change the name and the picture and instead put in a left-wing representative and exhibit it in a [West Bank] settlement. Will it be seen as incitement?” Hazan added.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev responded by calling on Education Minister Naftali Bennett to cut funding for Bezalel and to make the distinction between art and incitement.
“Freedom of art isn’t freedom to incite! It started with the statue in the city square and now we have a noose,” she said in a statement. “This is artistic talent to incite and murder. If it had been a picture of [Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog], there would already be arrests.”
Herzog also condemned the piece and said, “Freedom of speech is important and essential, but there is no place for using it to incite toward harming public leaders from the right or the left.”
Writing on Facebook, President Reuven Rivlin said the poster “was a clear crossing of lines” and “incitement against the prime minister,” adding that “we learned the hard way that there is no place for language like this.”
Adi Stern, president of Bezalel, told Haaretz that the image posted by Hazan on his Facebook page had been taken out of context and “is not incitement but the expression of an opinion.”
MK Zehava Galon, leader of the leftwing Meretz party, said that while she found the piece “to be in bad taste,” she was troubled by Regev’s call to cut Bezalel’s funding, which she said was tantamount to “dictating to the students what to think, what to say and how to express themselves.”
In a statement, Bezalel said that the college is “a protected space for freedom of expression in Israel, which allows students free, critical and creative debate over the wide range of subjects that occupy them.
“The work that hangs on the stairwell is composed of the image, which appears several times around a documentary photograph of incitement posters against prime minister Rabin. Next to the work is a page that reads, ‘This is called incitement.’”
The statement went on, “It’s still not clear, and we’re checking, whether this was an exercise that was part of a course or the personal expression of a student, although in any event, this is an internal expression, within the boundaries of the academy, and as part of a continuing debate on subjects of design, art and culture, including on questions of boundaries, the transcription of images and memory.”
“On the surface, the work corresponds with several known images that have significance and weight, including the memory of incitement against Rabin, and the famous poster of President Obama with the caption ‘Hope.’ The exercise, successful or not, is part of a professional discussion, mounted on an internal wall on the steps of the academy, and is not displayed in a public way. There is no political incitement in it and that’s how it should be judged.”