Police reportedly thought that cartoonist and performance artist Zeev Engelmayer was mocking the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when they arrested him at a protest Saturday for sporting a body suit depicting a naked female woman.
Police said in a statement after the arrest that they had arrested a man dressed as a naked woman, alleging that the costume could be construed as “sexual harassment toward the public.”
The arrest drew many questions given that Engelmayer, dressed as the character known as Shoshke, has been a hard-to-miss fixture of the weekly protests outside the premier’s residence on Balfour Street.
Shlomi Sagi of the Tel Aviv District Police indicated that a senior officer believed the costume to be directed at Sara Netanyahu and ordered the arrest.
“Thousands of citizens arrive at Balfour every Saturday night to demonstrate in a variety of costume of all kinds” Sagi told Channel 12 news. “The commander of the ground thought that the outfit was a kind of incitement. When you see it, you can allow your imagination to say which figure it is relating to.”
The prime minister’s wife has complained about feeling “sexually abused” by lewd posters and phallic displays during the protests.
Last month she filed a police complaint over alleged sexual harassment by protesters, citing explicit slogans and symbols waved at the demonstrations outside their Jerusalem residence, as well as threats to harm her.
Englemayer, who has been dressing as Shoshke for years, told Channel 12 that as soon as he arrived at the protest he was pounced upon and taken away, with one officer holding him by the throat restricting his breathing.
המשטרה עצרה הערב בירושלים את שושקה, דמות האנימציה שהאמן זאב אנגלמאיר הוציא מדפי הקומיקס- והפיח בה חיים. בשנים האחרונות שושקה הפכה לאקטיביסטית שיורדת לשטח ומפגינה על הנושאים שחשובים לה. ייתכן שהשוטרים לא שמעו עליה בעבר- חבל שזה מסתיים ככה @ynetalerts pic.twitter.com/gvG692u5ld
— איתי בלומנטל Itay Blumental (@ItayBlumental) September 5, 2020
He said he was eventually taken to the Moriah police station where he was given a rectal examination before being released later in the evening.
“Two officers asked me to strip” he said and recalled he was told to sit with his legs apart. “They wanted to see my bottom,” he said. “I have no idea why they did that.”
The Israel Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegation.
An official police statement on Engelmayer’s detention said “The demonstrator was detaining because of provocative conduct that harms and degrades women in a way that was likely to disturb order. Therefore he was asked to move on. When he refused he was detained at the station.”
Police said they would allow freedom of speech and protest as long as it is within the law.
At a press conference following the protests, a spokesperson for the Israel Police denied ever having seen Engelmayer at the protests before.
After his release, Engelmayer told Haaretz that police asked him, “Why do you walk around naked? What if children were to see it?”
“I explained to them with frustration that this is what art is like, that it tests boundaries, that this is free speech,” he said. “It’s very frustrating because there is no understanding there what protest is and what free speech is.”
He said he would be at the next protests on Saturday night, still dressed as Shoshke.
Engelmayer posted a photograph on Facebook in 2017 of him, dressed as Shoshke, alongside Sara Netanyahu.
Twelve protesters were arrested Saturday night in Jerusalem as thousands returned to the streets of the capital for the weekly demonstration calling for Netanyahu’s resignation over the criminal charges against him and over his government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.