Tel Aviv removes peeping Tom mural seen as encouraging sexual harassment

A tribute to 1970s cult film, with image showing teenage boys peeking into women’s changing room at beach, has been defaced 4 times in 2 years by feminist activists

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Tel Aviv Municipality workers remove a mural of boys peeping into the women's changing room at Metzitzim beach in Tel Aviv, August 23, 2020. (Ron Huldai/ Twitter)
Tel Aviv Municipality workers remove a mural of boys peeping into the women's changing room at Metzitzim beach in Tel Aviv, August 23, 2020. (Ron Huldai/ Twitter)

The Tel Aviv Municipality has removed a famous mural showing men peeping into the women’s changing room at a beach, after repeated defacement of the controversial drawing by feminist activists.

The 2000 mural by street artist Rami Meiri is a homage to a 1972 film, “Peeping Toms” or “Metzitzim” (peeping) in Hebrew, which has become a cult film, despite being seen as extremely demeaning toward women.

It was drawn outside the bathroom of the so-called Metzitzim Beach in Tel Aviv, where much of the film was shot.

“In response to complaints, we have erased the mural showing teenage boys peeping into the women’s changing room,” tweeted Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai on Sunday morning.

“Freedom of expression and art are important values in our city, but nevertheless, since the drawing is perceived as acceptance of a morally wrong and criminal act, it was decided to remove it,” Huldai said.

Preempting claims that the act “erases the past,” Huldai countered that it “expresses a clear message to the next generations.”

The artist, Meiri, has described his creation as a humorist take on the culture that existed at the beach in the 1970s.

“It describes a period that is part of the beach’s legacy. A period that is thankfully over, but many view as a central part of its past,” he told the Haaretz daily late last month.

Tel Aviv residents at Metzitzim Beach, August 2017. (Courtesy City of Tel Aviv-Jaffa)

But since 2018, the drawing has been defaced four times by members of Lotem, the feminist anti-terrorism unit. Most recently, masked women sprayed graffiti on the mural in late July, reading “rape culture.”

In one of the previous acts, Lotem members spray-painted the names of several famous rapists and sexual harassers next to the mural, including Jeffrey Epstein.

“This drawing, which has been stuck in public and nauseated passersby for years, teaches and normalizes behavior that is criminal according to Israeli law,” a Lotem activist told Haaretz several weeks ago, on condition of anonymity.

“It’s as if the municipality is telling the city’s women: ‘Come, your bodies are sexual entertainment for any man who passes here. This building was built for you to feel safe, put down your guard, and for men to feel welcome to peep on you when you are most vulnerable,'” she said.

Meiri said at the time that he had negotiated with the activists and offered to change the drawing to add a film booth or an old lady hitting the boys with a club. He said he understood the activists and wanted to use his drawing to combat violence against women.

The sides reached a compromise, according to which part of the activists’ graffiti would be left alongside the mural. But Lotem complained that only a small and unclear part of it was kept, prompting the fresh defacing.

But while the municipality restored the drawing to its previous state in each of the previous incidents of vandalism, this time it has decided to erase the mural entirely.

“The mural was drawn during a very naive period, before the violence we see in society nowadays,” Meiri reacted Sunday. “Had I intended to draw it today I definitely couldn’t because it indeed isn’t appropriate for our times.

“I understand the decision to remove the drawing, but I am also angry, because the message I had tried to convey could have prevailed, but I understand the municipality,” he added.

A 2014 report by Channel 10 raised suspicions that sexual harassment and abuse took place as part of the “Metzitzim” film’s production. The cousin of actress Mona Zilberstein even claimed that a rape scene in the movie was an actual rape, which together with other incidents of sexual harassment led to drug use and to her eventual death from an overdose. The accused offender was Uri Zohar, the film’s star, who has since become a rabbi.

The Tel Aviv decision comes amid a public outcry over an alleged gang rape of a teenage girl in the southern resort town of Eilat.

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