Deputy Attorney General Dana Zilber on Tuesday informed Culture Minister Miri Regev that the latter does not have the legal authority to withhold state funds from a museum in Haifa over its display of a sculpture depicting Ronald McDonald as Jesus on the cross.
The Haifa Museum’s display of the “McJesus” piece has drawn the ire of Arab Christians, hundreds of whom clashed with police outside the museum last week during a demonstration calling for the sculpture’s removal.
Amid the uproar, Regev sent a letter to the Haifa Museum’s director calling for “McJesus” to be taken down and warning that the institution could lose state funding under the 1985 Budgetary Principles Law.
“The existing legal framework does not allow for withholding funding in the arts due to the content of works on display at cultural institutions that are supported [by the state], or interfering in displayed content at a cultural institution because of the fact that it is supported” by the state, Zilber wrote to Regev.
“Insult to religious feelings is not one of the reasons [for withholding funds] that the legislator decided to include,” she continued, “and therefore it cannot be exercised in this case.”
Zilber also said cutting funds for cultural institutions over controversial works or demanding that such pieces be removed could infringe on freedom of speech.
“Culture, in all its forms and varieties, is the embodiment of artistic freedom of expression,” she wrote.
In her letter to Haifa Museum head Nissim Tal, Regev said that “disrespect of religious symbols… as an act of artistic protest is illegitimate.”
The “McJesus,” which was sculpted by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen and depicts a crucified Ronald McDonald, went on display in August as part of Haifa Museum’s “Sacred Goods” exhibit.
The show also features a number of other pieces depicting Jesus, including one of him as a “Ken” doll, as well as imagery from other religions.
Leinonen has also called for the piece to be removed because of his support for the boycott movement against Israel.