Israeli Museum to Remove Divisive 'McJesus' Sculpture

Mayor says work will no longer be displayed following discussions with church leaders ■ Creator previously asked museum to remove his work to protest Israeli policies

'McJesus,' on display at the Haifa Museum of Art.
Vilhelm Sjöström

An art exhibit depicting a crucified Ronald McDonald will be removed from display at the Haifa Museum of Art following protests from local Christians, Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem said Wednesday.

On Sunday, the Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic Churches in Haifa filed a request in court for an injunction to remove “McJesus” and two other artworks from the same display which they said depicted Jesus and Mary as commercial objects.

The work will be removed "as soon as possible," Kalischer-Rotem said, following discussions with church leaders and in light of the fact that its loan agreement was expiring in any case.

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The other divisive artworks will be displayed in a room separate from the rest of the "Sacred Goods" exhibit. The “Sacred Goods” display is in a gallery behind a curtain bearing a sign alerting visitors that the work is not meant to be offensive but “we will respect any decision not to visit this exhibition hall.”

Kalisch-Rotem said that the museum believes in freedom of expression as a foundation of democracy. "We regret the distress caused to the Christian community in Haifa and the physical l harm and violence that followed it," she said, referring to a protest in which three police officers were hurt and the throwing of a firebomb at the museum when it was closed at night.  

Dan Yakir, chief counsel for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said the mayor's decision was a "capitulation to violence and to severe damage to artistic freedom of expression.  The mayor, like the culture minister, is not authorized to decide what is or is't displayed at the city museum."

Meanwhile, it emerged this week that the work's creator, Finnish artist Jani Leinonen, had asked the museum to remove it in September because he had joined the BDS movement. He told Haaretz this week that he has contacted the museum again asking them to take it down but hadn't received an answer yet.

Culture Minister Miri Regev asked the museum to remove the artwork last week, prompting Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber to say that Regev   has no legal authority to cut state funding to the museum over the issue, as she had threatened.

The Haifa Museum of Art declined to comment on Kalisch-Rotem's decision.