Tolerance Museum axes 1973 war photo of nude soldier to avoid offending religious

Jerusalem’s Museum of Tolerance takes down image by acclaimed photojournalist Micha Bar-Am; son: ‘They care less about hurting our liberal feelings than those of religious people’

A view of the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)
A view of the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

A picture taken by an acclaimed photojournalist of a naked soldier washing himself during the 1973 Yom Kippur War has been removed from an exhibition at Jerusalem’s Museum of Tolerance, due to concerns that it could offend religiously observant visitors.

The photo of the soldier using a jerrycan of water to clean himself was taken near the Suez Canal by Micha Bar-Am, considered by many to be the father of Israeli photojournalism.

According to the Haaretz daily, the photo was to be part of an exhibition titled “Documenting Israel: Visions of 75 Years” which first went on display alongside a conference held by The Jerusalem Post at the museum.

The conference featured speeches by President Isaac Herzog and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis among others, and according to Haaretz, the exhibition was not yet open to the public — only to invitees and donors.

However, when Bar-Am’s wife and son visited the museum, they were angered to find that the photo had been taken down.

“The Museum of Tolerance probably cares less about hurting our liberal feelings than the feelings of religious people,” the photographer’s son, Barak Bar-Am, told Haaretz.

Asked for comment on the matter, the Museum of Tolerance said that the exhibition, which has not been widely publicized, was not due to open to the general public until mid-May (earlier publications had said it would be from the start of May), at which point the photo of the nude soldier would be returned to display.

But a formal statement by the museum to the newspaper contradicted that comment and said that the photo would not be exhibited as it may “hurt the feelings” of some who saw it.

“The Museum of Tolerance wishes to respect the feelings of all audiences and communities. The photo in question may hurt the feelings of some of the visitors and therefore it was decided at this stage that the photo will not be included in the exhibition,” the statement read.

The photograph of the soldier was not publicly displayed until 2013. It later featured in a documentary made when Bar-Am opened up his 50-year archive for filmmaker Ran Tal, “1341 Frames of Love and War,” which premiered at the Berlinale film festival and Tel Aviv’s DocAviv film festival last year and then became part of a temporary exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

Bar-Am was an acclaimed war photographer, the correspondent for Magnum from 1968 and the agency’s only Israeli member. He took photos for The New York Times and other major publications, and served from 1977 to 1993 as curator for photography at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

From ‘The Last Photograph: Ran Tal After Micha Bar-Am,’ a new exhibit at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on display through December 2022 (Courtesy Micha Bar-Am)

The Museum of Tolerance began to open its doors last year after long rounds of court battles, public relations fights, architectural squabbles, redesigns and other delays.

The price tag on the museum ballooned as it saw a change of name, design and location.

The museum’s controversial site in central Jerusalem, atop a 1,000-year-old Muslim cemetery, had already sparked questions about whether the Tolerance Museum was itself intolerant.

Sue Surkes and Jessica Steinberg contributed to this report.

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