Iconic Ben-Gurion headstand statue on Tel Aviv beach badly burned in attack

Homeless man arrested; security increased at first PM’s home, which laments ‘increasing vitriol’ toward Israel’s founders days after gov’t lawyer rapped Declaration of Independence

A statue depicting Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion that was set on fire on the beach in Tel Aviv, September 16, 2023 (Flash90)
A statue depicting Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion that was set on fire on the beach in Tel Aviv, September 16, 2023 (Flash90)

An iconic statue of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion was badly damaged in an attack on a Tel Aviv beach in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The statue of Ben-Gurion on Frishman Beach is a recreation of a famous image by photographer Paul Goldman, who captured the former premier performing a headstand on the beach in 1957.

CCTV footage showed an individual approaching the statue at around 5:25 a.m.

Police later said that a 34-year-old homeless man had been arrested in connection with the vandalism.

The motive behind the arson attack was unclear. Some Hebrew media reports said the suspect has mental health issues.

In a statement before the arrest, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai noted that the attack was carried out on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and vowed that the statue would be repaired quickly.

A statue of David Ben Gurion doing a headstand near his home on the beach in Tel Aviv. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“It is very sad that at the beginning of the new year someone decided to damage one of the most beloved sculptures in the city, the statue of the symbol of the founding of Israel – David Ben-Gurion,” Huldai wrote on Facebook.

“We will repair the statue as soon as possible so that it will be restored as soon as possible, to make the residents of the city happy, especially the children,” Huldai said.

The statue was initially cordoned off by municipal workers, before it was removed from the scene by a bulldozer.

The municipality filed a complaint with police.

Municipal workers remove statue depicting Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion that was set on fire on the beach in Tel Aviv, September 16, 2023 ( Flash90)

Security has been increased at Ben-Gurion’s nearby former home, which has been converted into a museum.

In a statement cited by the Walla news site, also before the arrest, the Ben-Gurion House said the arson came amid increasing vitriol toward those who had founded the country and written the Declaration of Independence.

“It is sad to see the discourse unfolding in Israeli society toward the symbols and founding fathers of the establishment of the country. As part of this sad trend, it is especially sad to see the act of violence on the Tel Aviv beach,” the organization said.

“A statue can be restored, but a society that loses respect for its past is a society whose future will be shrouded in fog, and it will be very difficult to rebuild,” the organization said.

In this May 14, 1948 photo, cabinet ministers of the new State of Israel are seen at a ceremony at the Tel Aviv Art Museum marking the creation of the new state, during prime minister David Ben-Gurion’s speech declaring independence. (AP Photo)

The statue was targeted days after the lawyer representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government dismissed Israel’s foundational Declaration of Independence as a “hasty” document endorsed by unelected signatories that cannot be a source of legal authority.

The comment by Ilan Bombach during a high-stakes High Court of Justice hearing on Tuesday on the petitions against the reasonableness law, the first piece of judicial overhaul legislation, sparked an uproar.

The Declaration of Independence, which defines Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, was famously read aloud by Ben-Gurion on May 14, 1948.

It has become a key symbol used by protesters against the hardline government’s contentious judicial overhaul.

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