A controversial sculpture that sparked rioting by local Christians for depicting Ronald McDonald as Jesus on the cross will be removed from a museum in Haifa, the northern city’s mayor said Wednesday.
Mayor Einat Kalisch Rotem announced that the so-called “McJesus” sculpture will soon be returned to Finland, noting the loan contract was due to expire this month.
“In an agreement with the church leaders, and since the lending agreement for the sculpture ends in the coming days, it will be removed, and returned as soon as possible,” Rotem tweeted.
She included a photo of the contact showing the statue was to be returned by January 2019 to the Zetterberg Gallery in Helsinki. The Israeli museum received the item in June.
A citizens right’s group slammed the development, accusing local officials of caving to violence.
1. בסיכום עם ראשי הכנסיות, והיות וחוזה ההשאלה של הפסל מק'ישו מסתיים בימים אלה, היצירה תוסר ותוחזר בהקדם. שאר הפריטים יהיו תלויים בחדר סגור. pic.twitter.com/Cox4sKloFQ
— עינת קליש רותם (@EINATkalisch) January 16, 2019
The Haifa Museum of Art’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.
As the controversy escalated, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev threatened to withhold funding from the museum unless it takes down the piece. In addition, the artist who created the sculpture also asked that it be removed because of his support for the boycott movement against Israel.
Rotem defended the decision to remove the sculpture, insisting she supports the freedom of speech.
“Without any connection, we believe in freedom of speech as a cornerstone of democracy,” she wrote. “We regret the distress experienced by the Christian community in Haifa, and the physical injury and violence that followed. We thank the heads of the Christian churches and priests in Haifa for the dialogue and desire to bridge, the effort to reach a solution, and to prevent violence.”
The Association for Citizen Rights condemned the move.
“The decision by Mayor Kalisch-Rotem is a capitulation to violence and a severe violation of artistic freedom of expression,” the organization wrote. “The mayor of the city, like the minister of culture, is not authorized to determine what is displayed and what will not be exhibited in the municipal museum.”
The Walla news website reported that a Haifa District Court debate on a petition to remove three additional sculptures by the same artist from the museum was postponed Thursday by a week to give Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit time to formulate a legal opinion in the case.
On Tuesday Deputy Attorney General Dana Zilber informed Culture Minister Regev that she does not have the legal authority to withhold state funds from the museum over its display of a sculpture.
Zilber also said cutting funds for cultural institutions over controversial works or demanding that such pieces be removed could infringe on the freedom of speech.
“Culture, in all its forms and varieties, is the embodiment of artistic freedom of expression,” she wrote in a letter to the minister.
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.