Israeli mayor removes ‘shameful’ anti-Haredi exhibit from city art museum

The picture showed an ultra-Orthodox Jew praying at the Western Wall with the huge caption, “Jerusalem of gold, Jerusalem of sh**.”

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The city of Ramat Gan removed an exhibit from its local art museum Saturday that was blatantly hateful towards the ultra-Orthodox, with the mayor calling it “shameful.”

The Museum of Israel Art just reopened last week after undergoing major renovations, and included among its new photos was a blowup of a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jew standing and praying at the Western Wall, with his head leaning on a hand resting on the ancient stones. Accompanying the picture were the words, “Jerusalem of gold, Jerusalem of sh**.”

The work, made by 69-year-old artist David Reeb, created an instant uproar that quickly reached City Hall.

Mayor Carmel Shama Hacohen reacted swiftly, writing on his Facebook page even before the removal that the inclusion of such a work, especially in a publicly funded institution, was unacceptable.

“Freedom of expression is the breath of life until it threatens to become freedom to incite and debase, certainly when it begins to emit an odor of racism,” he wrote. “Jerusalem is a symbol and is in the heart of every Jew, and holy to all faiths.”

“It’s chilling just to think of what we’d feel and do if this work was in a museum in Poland, Germany or France,” he added. “Ramat Gan did not build a museum for a huge sum of money and subsidize it every year so that its children and others will be exposed to the language of the sewer. This has crossed the line from legitimate criticism … to callous and shameful incitement towards the capital of Israel and the Kotel, the holiest place for the Jewish people. And worst of all, to racism towards Haredim who have perhaps a different lifestyle, but they were, and will continue to be, our brothers.”

The city took down the exhibit despite the objections of deputy mayor Roey Barzilai, who is also the director of the museum, and before the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) applied Sunday for a court order to annul the decision. ACRI had also requested a temporary stay order against its removal and for the court to instruct the mayor that he could not interfere with the contents of cultural exhibits in publicly-funded institutions.

The organization maintained that the removal was “an improper political intervention in the artistic content displayed in the museum,” and appealed to the court to force him to rehang the photo until the court hears the case.

The mayor went back to Facebook to defend his action, saying the stay order was “meaningless” as the exhibit was already gone. He added sternly, “The city will never fund with its residents’ money the harming or shaming of any person, sector [or] holy place, even if this means changing the nature and subject matter of the museum.”

“Extremist organizations and elements are waging a belligerent attack against the city’s sovereignty and its right to decide what should not be done with its own money. We will neither flinch nor give in,” he wrote.