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'McJesus' sculpture in Israeli museum enrages Arab Christians who violently clash with police

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Cops used tear gas and stun grenades against the protesters

Image source: 10.tv video screenshot

A sculpture depicting McDonald's mascot Ronald McDonald hanging from a cross enraged hundreds of Arab Christians who violently clashed with police Friday over the sculpture's display in a museum in Haifa, Israel, the Times of Israel reported.

Police told the paper several hundred protesters tried to force their way into the Haifa Museum of Art during the demonstration and that three officers were injured by thrown rocks.

Cops used used tear gas and stun grenades against the protesters, the Times of Israel said. Here's a clip:

A molotov cocktail was thrown at the museum Thursday, the paper reported, so police from a Special Patrol Unit were deployed to the museum to guard it ahead of Friday's protest.

What did one of the protesters say?

One of the protesters said the government dragged its feet regarding concerns over the sculpture because they're from the Christian minority: "If they put up [a sculpture of] Hitler with a Torah scroll they would immediately respond," he told the Walla news site, the paper said.

What did an Israeli official have to say?

Culture minister Miri Regev on Thursday sent Haifa Museum director Nissim Tal a letter calling for the sculpture's removal, the Times of Israel said.

"Disrespect of religious symbols sacred to many worshipers in the world as an act of artistic protest is illegitimate and cannot serve as art at a cultural institution supported by state funds," she wrote, the paper said.

What did the artist have to say?

Finnish artist Jani Leinonen told the Jerusalem Post his "McJesus" sculpture is "in the exhibition against my wishes" and wants it out.

"I joined the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity," Leinonen told the Post. "Israel overtly uses culture as a form of propaganda to whitewash or justify its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism, and apartheid over the Palestinian people. Therefore I do not wish to be part of this exhibition, and I asked the museum to take my artwork off the exhibition."

How did the museum respond?

A museum spokeswoman told the Post that the "McJesus" sculpture was contractually borrowed from a Finnish gallery for a specific period of time, has been in the Haifa museum since August 2018, and since that time "the museum has never received a request from the gallery to remove the sculpture."

After Friday's protest, the museum told the Times of Israel that Tal agreed during a meeting with church leaders and Haifa officials that a sign at the exhibit's entrance would be installed, warning people that it contains potentially offensive content.

The "McJesus" sculpture is part of the museum's "Sacred Good" exhibit, which also features Jesus as a "Ken" doll and imagery from other religions, the Times of Israel said.

The museum also condemned the violence, the paper added: "A discourse about art, however complex it may be, must not spill over into violent territory and must be respected — even in charged situations."

This writer's perspective

Muslims in early 2006 demonstrated against cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad as a terrorist — and outlets across Europe reprinted them in defiance. French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo more or less took the lead in this department, and as a result it was sued multiple times, attacked by arsonists — and then gunmen killed a dozen people its Paris office in early 2015.

In addition, a pair of gunmen were shot dead by police in May 2015 before they could take down those inside a Garland, Texas, building where a Muhammad cartoon contest was being held.

Muslims are wrong to get violent over Mohammad caricatures, and left-wingers are wrong to support bans on free expression when Muslims are offended and limits on free speech in general. By the same token, the Arab Christians in this case are wrong to get violent over the "McJesus" sculpture, and Christians more broadly — and I count myself among them — shouldn't attempt to limit freedom of expression because of art that offends their religious beliefs.

Everybody needs to live by the same rules. Either we're all free to express ourselves without fear of violence — as nauseating as some results of free speech might be — or we're all shut down by the powers that be so that no one gets outraged or hurt feelings.

It seems far preferable to be allowed to breathe free. Free to create, free to express, and yes, free to protest — peacefully.

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