Hundreds of Israeli Christians are protesting a sculpture on display at a museum in the city of Haifa.
Israeli police reportedly dispersed a crowd of violent protesters with stun grenades and tear gas after the rioters threw a firebomb at the museum.
The sculpture causing all this outrage depicts Ronald McDonald crucified like Jesus. The sculpture, called "McJesus," is a 2015 work by Jani Leinonen.
The artwork is on display as part of an exhibit called "Sacred Goods." According to the museum's director, Nissim Tal, the purpose of the exhibit is to criticize the cult-like worship of capitalism. He also pointed out that the exhibit has been on display for months without incident, and has also been shown in several other countries.
It seems that the outrage started late last week after someone had shared photos of the exhibit on social media.
In the wake of the outrage from Israel's very tiny Christian population, Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev called upon the museum to remove the "disrespectful" artwork.
But thankfully, Tal is not removing it. He said he was shocked by the sudden outrage. He said that the museum would not remove the piece, and that doing so would be an infringement on freedom of expression. Instead, as a sort of compromise, the museum has hung a curtain over the entrance to the exhibit with a sign saying that the art is not intended to offend.
“This is the maximum that we can do,” Tal said. “If we take the art down, the next day we’ll have politicians demanding we take other things down and we’ll end up only with colorful pictures of flowers in the museum.”
“We will be defending freedom of speech, freedom of art, and freedom of culture, and will not take it down,” he said.
The Christians remain outraged, however, and some are still protesting and calling for the removal of the sculpture.
Interestingly, the artist who created the work supports taking it down... but for a very different reason. Leinonen, from Finland, supports Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, or the BDS movement. BDS is a Palestinian-led movement that aims to drive change in Israel's policies towards Palestinians. Among the methods that BDS has employed has been to persuade artists and performers to cancel shows in Israel.
I am glad that the museum is not acquiescing to the demands of those who want to remove the sculpture for simply offending religious sensibilities. Standing up to religious bullying is necessary to protect freedom of speech and expression, and religious people are so often the most vocal opponents of freedom of expression.
From the Charlie Hebdo attacks, to the controversy over the cartoons in the Danish publication Jyllands-Posten, we have to fight back against censorship that is designed to protect the medieval superstitions of the religious.