A statue inspired by an iconic photo of a demonstrator against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was installed in Tel Aviv on Thursday after the Jerusalem municipality took it down from its original location near the premier’s residence.
The sculpture, which is based on a picture of a protestor holding Israel’s national flag against a stream of liquid shot from a water cannon, was installed in Rabin Square with the permission of the Tel Aviv municipality.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, an outspoken critic of Netanyahu who has said he would launch a Knesset bid if another election were to be held soon, responded to the installation, telling the Haaretz daily that Israeli democracy “is at one of its low points, and everything must be done to protect it.”
The statue was taken down last week from its original location in Jerusalem where it was apparently erected without a permit. According to Haaretz, artist Itay Zalait has applied for permission for the statue to be reinstalled in Jerusalem’s Paris Square, close to the Prime Minister’s Residence and the epicenter of the protests against Netanyahu.
When workers from the Jerusalem municipality last week removed the statue they were accompanied by police officers, who arrested Zalait when he lay down at the statue’s base in an attempt to prevent its removal. He was released a number of hours later, Haaretz reported.
Zalait said the statue was erected with an “engineering permit and did not disturb anyone.”
Earlier, Zalait told the Kan public broadcaster that he believed the demonstrators were everyday heroes, and the six-ton “Hero of Israel” statue was meant to depict that.
“A person who leaves the house every day, takes risks and gets beaten up, guards their home and fights for democracy is no less than an Israeli hero,” Zalait said.
The image that inspired the statue was taken on July 18 and was immediately seen around the world as an iconic image and symbol of the demonstrations.
At the protest in question there were complaints of police aggression toward protesters, as well as concerns about the use of water cannons at close range.
That same evening, a protest leader lay under a water cannon in an attempt to thwart its use — last month he was among the first anti-Netanyahu demonstrators charged for their actions at protests, and now faces an indictment for interference with a police officer in the performance of their duties.
The statue was not the first political statement made by Zalait through art — earlier this year he installed a pop-up exhibit of a life-sized statue of Netanyahu enjoying a lavish meal by himself at a sprawling table, in a parody of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”
Two years ago, he erected a statue of Israel’s then-culture minister, Miri Regev, wearing a long white dress and staring into a full-length mirror. The depiction was meant to protest Regev’s calls for legislation requiring artists to show “loyalty” to the state.
Before that, he built a golden statue of Netanyahu to mock what he said was the idolatry of many Israelis toward the longtime leader.
Demonstrators have been holding regular protests against Netanyahu, demanding he resign over his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing and claims the indictments are part of an effort by political rivals, the media, police and prosecutors to remove him from office.
In addition to a central protest in Jerusalem and satellite demonstrations around the country, demonstrators regularly rally outside the Netanyahu family’s private residence in Caesarea.