Posters by art students seemingly calling for violence against Netanyahu have prompted public debate over the limits of freedom of expression in Israeli society.
Israel’s police launched an investigation Tuesday into a poster bearing the image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu behind a noose, sparking a debate over the limits of freedom of expression.
The poster, a riff on the “hope” poster from US President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, was made by a female Arab student and plastered in the hallway at Jerusalem’s prestigious Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. It was removed shortly after. The word “hope” in the original poster was replaced by the word “rope.”
On Wednesday, another poster was sketched, showing a naked Netanyahu with a noose around his genitals.
Noam Sharvit, a Justice Ministry spokesman, said the probe, launched after the first poster went viral, will investigate whether the artists were inciting to violence.
‘Artistic Freedom is Not Freedom to Incite’
Minister of Culture Miri Regev wrote on Facebook that “artistic freedom is not freedom to incite,” and called to cut Bezalel’s state funding.
The student who drew the first poster claimed it was an exercise in art. She was released under restrictive conditions after two hours of questioning. Details on her identity have not been cleared for publication.
Some said that such a move would trample on the right to free expression, while acknowledging the poster was in bad taste and even potentially dangerous.
“What disturbs me in this context is the immediate lashing out that calls for denying funding to Bezalel,” Zehava Galon, head of the extreme left-wing Meretz party, told IDF Radio. “We need to leave wide margins for freedom of expression unless it borders on bloodshed.”
However, Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said he “utterly condemn[s] the poster. “Freedom of expression is important and necessary, but there is no place for using it to incite harm against public leaders on the right or the left,” he stated.
Israel has a flourishing arts scene bolstered by world-class academies, galleries and museums.
Last week an artist erected a golden statue of Netanyahu in a central Tel Aviv square that drew a stream of selfie-taking passersby before being toppled by a bystander. The statue was interpreted as criticism of his policies.
Bezalel President Adi Stern, regarding the first poster, claimed its message had been taken out of context. He told IDF Radio that it originally appeared with a poster of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with the word “traitor” printed underneath. Such posters were common ahead of Rabin’s 1995 assassination, part of a climate of incitement that many say inspired the killing.
Stern said he interpreted the display as a general commentary on incitement.
However, another student, appalled at the sight of the posters plastered to the wall, turned one of them around and wrote on it: “This is incitement.”
After the second poster was shown on Wednesday – it was later taken down – the youth section of Netanyahu’s Likud Party called for the prestigious art academy to be closed down until incitement against the prime minister could be properly investigated, Channel 2 reported.
By: World Israel News Staff and AP