A life-size statue of Culture Minister Miri Regev was placed overnight at a central square in Tel Aviv, in apparent protest of the so-called Culture Loyalty Law she is championing.
The display has Regev, in a white dress, staring at herself in an oversized mirror. A small plaque reads “#InTheHeartOfTheNation.”
The placement of the statue at Habima square, home of Israel’s Habima National Theater, was likely not incidental.
Regev has been under intense criticism from the creative community for proposing a bill that would allow her to withhold public funding for cultural organizations “that are working against the principles of the state.”
The bill would allow the government to pull funds from organizations or events that feature any of five topics or themes: denial that the State of Israel is a Jewish, democratic country; incitement of racism, violence, or terror; support for the armed struggle or acts of terror against Israel by an enemy state or a terror group; marking Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning; or any act of destruction or physical degradation of the flag or any state symbol.
It cleared its first Knesset vote on Monday night after an hours-long, furious parliamentary debate.
Critics say the law will essentially enshrine state censorship over the arts.
Regev said in response she had indeed “held up a mirror to Israel’s culture world, a mirror that has revealed the exclusion of entire groups and the arrogance of those who saw themselves as ‘the heart of the nation.'”
She added that “the people…are my mirror” and, paraphrasing the “Snow White” fairy tale, said her interests lay in finding out “what are the ugliest injustices of them all.”
According to Channel 10 news, the man behind the statue was Itay Zalait, the same artist who in 2016 erected a golden statue of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
Zalait said that work was intended “to test the boundaries of free speech in Israel.”
Many saw in the Netanyahu statue a reference to the biblical golden calf, worshiped by the Children of Israel while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Jewish law. Others saw reminders of dictators such as Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu and Cuban strongman Fidel Castro.
The Netanyahu statue was toppled by a passerby hours after its placement, shortly after municipality inspectors warned the artist that the city would remove it and charge him unless it was taken away.
At the time Regev responded to the statue on Facebook: “How cut off from reality can an artist be? Israel is democratic, [with] individual rights, civil rights, moral sensitivity, an activist judiciary, free media, in short one of the free countries. But [this is] disconnected art, whose one golden calf is hatred of Netanyahu.”
Sue Surkes contributed to this report.