Blog: art censorship in Israel

The truth will set you free, but first - it will piss you off

One of the world-famous sculptures featuring male nudity is a statue of David by the artist Michelangelo Benrotti. The statue, which is more than five meters high, was commissioned by the Republic of Florence during the Italian Renaissance and is considered a cornerstone in the history of art. In 1995, in the full 3,000 years since the founding of the city of Jerusalem, the city of Florence offered to give a copy of the statue of David to Jerusalem as a gift. The Jerusalem municipality rejected the gift, claiming that the statue depicting nakedness could hurt the feelings of the religious public in the city. Although the case described in this paragraph is not an example of the use of censorship, but only of the rejection of a donation, one can learn from this rejection how different the perception of nudity in Israeli art is compared to the perception of nudity in Italy. (Appendix A, p. 20)

In September 2011, when the photographer Spencer Tonic arrived in Israel with the aim of photographing about a thousand naked people in the Dead Sea. Tonic is a Jewish-American photographer whose photographer aroused the opposition of religious Knesset members who claimed it was a public undressing. MK Shasim Ze'ev of the Shas party worked to cancel the photo, and Zebulon Orlev claimed that "although the Dead Sea is close to Sodom and Gomorrah, there is no need for Sodom and Gomorrah-style actions." Attempts to cancel the photo were unsuccessful, but a bill was submitted a year later. Following the photo, according to which undressing in public for art purposes would also be considered an offense punishable by one year in prison. The bill did not pass in the Knesset (Polak 2011)

In 1997, photographer Tamir Lahav Radlemser presented two works in the Ho-Mama exhibition at the Ramat Gan Museum. One of the works shows a blade breastfeeding a naked man and the other holding a naked man's penis and kissing it on his mouth. Access to the works was blocked by two pillars and a rope. When Lahav heard about the blocking of access to the works, he turned to Noa Hoyberg, head of the museum's training department, who explained that this was a decision by the museum's director, Meir Aharonson. Lahav claimed that he later heard that an inspector of the director of education had informed the museum management that "groups of students will be brought to the exhibition on the condition that they are not exposed to this abomination." Lahav made it clear to Aaronson that his works would not be placed behind pillars and a rope. In a phone call held by Lahav and Aaronson afterwards, Aaronson assured that the rope was in the warehouse and that he was not interested in the restrictions set by the Superintendent of Education. (Appendix A, pp. 52-53)

About two months after blocking access to Lahav's works, the Ramat Gan Museum removed another photo. The photograph that was removed is a photograph called a tefillin by the artist Micha Kirshner, and it was presented in a photo exhibition inspired by Jonah Wallach's poems called Photo Jonah. The photo shows a naked man with tefillin strips on his body. Zvi Bar, mayor of Ramat Gan, put pressure on Meir Aharonson, who curated the exhibition, to remove Kirchner's work and take another photo of Digi Dekel. Aaronson told Kirchner that the mayor justified the demand by claiming that "otherwise ten thousand ultra-Orthodox will demonstrate without police approval and burn down the museum. There is a consideration of public peace here." In an article by Yair Lapid to the Maariv newspaper, Bar's spokesman, Mimi Peer, explained that "the lowering of the picture was not due to ultra-Orthodox pressure, or from the fact that Bar's coalition rabbi in the city council will be reduced to a single vote if the religious retire." The mayor's sensitivity to the issue. When the other photographers who exhibited at the exhibition learned about the censorship, they decided to remove their pictures and demonstrated against the disqualification at the Cinematheque plaza in Tel Aviv. In an attempt to save the exhibition, Aaronson sent a proposal to the Ramat Gan municipality that a sign be placed at the entrance to the exhibition to warn the audience of their feelings, but his offer was rejected. Lapid signed the article, claiming that "for some reason, no one is afraid that tens of thousands of secular people will demonstrate without police approval and burn down the municipality." (Appendix A, pp. 98-99)

In 1996, the English sculptor Anthony Gormley was invited to present an environmental sculpture in Jerusalem as part of an exhibition called Signs. The statue named Hole in the Center of the World is a metal statue depicting a naked man. Gormali claimed that he created the statue during his first visit to Jerusalem as "an immediate, physical, very strong response to the city [...] The statue is an image of a body that went through an event of suffering and survival. It has great closeness to your situation." (Appendix A, pp. 28-29)

The Sculpture and Painting Committee of the Jerusalem Municipality disqualified the display of the statue, arguing that human statues should not be placed in public spaces, especially not when naked. Among the members of the conference are municipal officials and key figures in Israeli art, such as Dr. Micha Levin, the architect David Reznik, Yigal Zalmona and Tamar Goldschmidt. In an interview with Studio Magazine, Zalmona claimed that "the committee had such a complete consensus that there was no need to put the issue up for discussion and voting at all. Gormley wanted to place the statue in the sensitive seam area between the two parts of the city. Jews to Arabs. " (There)

In 1996, an exhibition of immigrant artists was presented at the Knesset. Dan Tichon, Speaker of the Knesset, toured the exhibition before it opened and decided to ban the display of a sculpture called the case of artist Tanya Preminger. The sculpture depicts a kind of combination of a female vagina with a male genitalia. The high school's office said it had decided not to display the statue because of "the erotic connotations, which could have hurt the feelings of many Knesset members." Preminger was supposed to say a few words at the opening of the exhibition but decided not to welcome the protest against the censor of the statue. (Appendix A, p. 103)

In February 1997, a sculpture made of cast bronze by the artist Ivy Polig was placed in the yard of the Apropo Cafe in Tel Aviv. As soon as the statue was placed, a "delegation" of ultra-Orthodox people living in the area arrived at the cafe and threatened the owner of the cafe that if he did not vacate the statue, "his business would be harmed." Polig's business manager, Aussie Hillel, claimed in an article for Maariv that "this is an abstract, artistic and not provocative sculpture. Therefore, I estimated that we do not expect any problems with the ultra-Orthodox who live in the area." (Appendix A, pp. 74-75)

About a month later, a Palestinian terrorist carried out a suicide bombing in the cafe. The attack killed three women and injured 48 other civilians. In an article for the Maariv newspaper, an ultra-Orthodox interviewee said that "everything is because of the naked woman [...] Next to the body of the suicide bomber stands a statue of a naked woman [

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