An artwork people are calling ‘McJesus’ sparked a riot on Friday after it was exhibited at the Haifa Museum of Art.
Hundreds of Arab Christian demonstrators clashed with police, and three cops were reportedly injured by rock-hurling demonstrators demanding that the piece depicting Ronald McDonald, the mascot of the fast-food giant, be removed.
So angry were the protesters that a molotov cocktail was hurled at the museum.
Created by Finnish artist Janei Leinonen, the crucified Ronald McDonald forms part of a “Sacred Goods” display the Haifa museum. Among those who branded it as “offensive to Christians” was the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, Theophilos III.
Police said a few hundred protesters tried to force their way into the Haifa Museum of Art during the demonstration. An investigation was opened to identify the rock-throwers, and a 32-year-old resident of the city was arrested on suspicion of attacking officers.
One of the protesters complained that the government was slow to react to their concerns because they were from the Christian minority.
If they put up [a sculpture of] Hitler with a Torah scroll they would immediately respond.
Ahead of the protest, police deployed officers from its Special Patrol Unit to guard the museum after the molotov cocktail was thrown at the museum on Thursday.
The show also features a number of other pieces depicting Jesus, including one of him as a “Ken” doll, as well as imagery from other religions.
On Thursday, Culture Minister Miri Regev sent Haifa Museum director Nissim Tal a letter calling for the sculpture’s removal.
Disrespect of religious symbols sacred to many worshipers in the world as an act of artistic protest is illegitimate and cannot serve as art at a cultural institution supported by state funds.
In response to Friday’s protest, the Haifa Museum said Tal agreed during a meeting with church leaders and officials from the Haifa Municipality to put up a sign at the entrance to the exhibit explaining it contains potentially offensive content.
The museum also condemned the throwing of the molotov cocktail and said any objection to the piece must not be expressed violently.
A discourse about art, however complex it may be, must not spill over into violent territory and must be respected – even in charged situations.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate called on the Haifa Municipality to remove the paintings and sculptures that it said were offensive to Christians and demanded an apology for sponsoring such an event.
No one should offend others under the pretext of freedom of expression.