Bennett seeks to block ‘Bodies’ exhibition

Senior minister says display, which features corpses, violates Israel’s character and respect for the dead

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

An ultra-Orthodox man attends the 'Body Worlds' exhibit in Haifa, August 17, 2009. (photo credit: Matanya Tausig/Flash90)
An ultra-Orthodox man attends the 'Body Worlds' exhibit in Haifa, August 17, 2009. (photo credit: Matanya Tausig/Flash90)

Economy and Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he will attempt to prevent human remains intended for “Bodies: The Exhibition” from entering the country, arguing that their entry violates both Israel’s character and respect for the dead.

Bennett wrote to Aviad Cohen, dean of the Sha’arei Mishpat College late last week, saying, “From the draft warrant on your office’s website, it arose that you purport to allow the import of bodies for the purpose of exhibition, and to regulate the weighty matter with a warrant. You intend to legitimize this action under the umbrella of an import/export order, as if it were talking about the import of a toy or item of clothing, and not an action that harms the basic values of a Jewish and democratic state that strives to protect human dignity.”

Bennett promised “not to allow one body into Israel. Period.”

The exhibit shows plastinated human bodies, with organs and skin partly removed, in a variety of poses.

Israeli democracy NGO Israel Hofshit criticized Bennett, writing on its Facebook page, “We ask Bennett — where is the red line? No to the bodies exhibition, but yes to Lady Gaga who will appear in two weeks in Israel? Who determines yes and no?

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (photo credit:  Amit Shabi/POOL/FLASH90)
Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett (photo credit: Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)

“Minister Bennett, of course, like his friends in the Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, thinks it is he who determines.

“We say clearly — everyone should choose for themselves which exhibit to go to and which not to. If there is a big enough audience for the exhibit, then it would apparently be consistent with the Jewish and democratic values of its viewers.”

A similar exhibit was held in Haifa in 2009-2010, and Bodies came to Tel Aviv in 2012 until the Supreme Court ruled that it could not be extended because of legal technicalities.

Other governments have banned or found issues with the exhibit. In 2008, New York’s attorney general allowed the exhibit to stay open only if the promoters posted signs saying that they could not verify whether or not the bodies on display belonged to executed Chinese prisoners.

The next year, Hawaii shut down the exhibit, followed in 2010 by France, which banned it for violating rules on the dignity of the human body.

Prominent rabbis and ethicists in Israel have been outspoken in their condemnation of the exhibit.

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