A poster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doctored to make him look like Hitler was briefly exhibited at an art college in Tel Aviv on Thursday, widening a controversy over free speech and incitement that began earlier this week when a poster featuring Netanyahu with a hangman’s noose, and another one of the prime minister in the nude, were displayed at a Jerusalem art college.
Thursday’s work features a black-and-white photo of the prime minister with the Hebrew word for “incitement” placed under his nose in a way that appears similar to Adolf Hitler’s iconic mustache. It was temporarily put on display in Ramat Gan’s Shenkar College of Art, near Tel Aviv.
Shenkar officials said they did not know who put up the poster, nor who removed it. Students at the school also protested against the perceived crackdown on freedom of speech, by temporarily blocking roads to traffic.
Simultaneously, students at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, where the Netanyahu noose poster was displayed on Monday, and the naked Netanyahu on Wednesday, staged a two-hour strike protesting what they decried as infringement of freedom of speech after a student was questioned by police under caution for creating the noose artwork. Probed for alleged incitement, she is not expected to be charged.
During the sit-in Thursday at Bezalel, the Netanyahu noose poster was again displayed.
Some 200 students took part in the Bezalel strike, Channel 2 reported, in protest at the police investigation of the student who created the artwork amid accusations of incitement. She was briefly questioned on Tuesday evening and Wednesday.
Nadav Heipert, chairman of the Bezalel student union, told Ynet, “We have crossed a red line. Bringing in political causes and suppressing freedom of speech represents a genuine threat to us.”
A Likud official sparked this week’s controversy after posting a picture of the Netanyahu noose poster on Facebook. The artwork was heavily criticized by some politicians in both the coalition and opposition. Others, though, slammed the decision by the attorney general to order that the student responsible be questioned.
The lawyer for the student said she had not intended to be provocative, but had produced the work as part of a college assignment.
Accusations of incitement have dogged Netanyahu since the weeks before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, when he and other senior Likud members attended a right-wing political rally in Jerusalem where protesters branded Rabin a “traitor,” “murderer” and “Nazi” for signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians earlier that year.
Critics say Netanyahu — who stood with other right-wing politicians on a balcony above Zion Square as the protests unfolded beneath him, and who also marched in a Ra’anana protest as demonstrators carried a coffin behind him — ignored inflammatory rhetoric that incited to Rabin’s murder.
In response the prime minister recently shared a video clip of him “definitively denouncing the hate speech directed towards the prime minister,” on Facebook and urged viewers to “judge for yourself.”
In early November Netanyahu came under fire from left-wing and centrist lawmakers after he failed to condemn a claim by fellow Likud MK and coalition chairman David Bitan that Rabin’s assassination was “not political.”
Later in November Rabin’s daughter warned that incitement against political adversaries continues in Israel’s political debates.
Rabin was shot dead by far-right activist Yigal Amir at the end of a peace rally in Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995.
Speaking at an event to mark the 21st anniversary of his assassination, Rabin’s daughter Dalia warned that the schisms that divided Israel at the time and led to her father’s killing are still in evidence in Israel’s public discourse.
“This murder was terrible. It is an open wound for us in the family, but it is also an open wound for our nation,” she said at the ceremony.
“The incitement from before has not ended. Parts of the nation are still in denial and find ways to argue that maybe it was good to murder him,” she said.
Last week a life-size golden statue of Netanyahu was erected overnight in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
The sculptor, Itay Zalait, said in an interview with Channel 2 News that this was just the first in a series of artistic acts he was planning.
“The aim is to test the boundaries of free speech in Israel in 2016,” he said. “What happens when I display a sculpture like this? Will it bring sanctions, such as arrest, for example? Or will it just be removed?”