Israeli Court Upholds Mayor’s Decision to Take Down ‘McJesus’ Sculpture

The judges cited public-order concerns about the work being shown at a museum, saying a city must prevent offense to local people

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

A Haifa court has upheld the mayor’s decision to remove the “McJesus” sculpture from a museum that offended the city’s Christians, saying the mayor had the authority to intervene in a case that threatened public order.

The Haifa District Court rejected the appeal by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel against Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem, who had ordered the work taken down at the Haifa Museum of Art. The sculpture depicts Ronald McDonald as Jesus on the cross.

According to the appeal, Kalisch-Rotem’s decision breached freedom of expression and represented a capitulation to violence.

Hundreds of Christians violently protested in front of the museum last month over the display, which was part of a larger exhibit entitled “Sacred Goods.” A few days later Kalisch-Rotem said the work would be removed.

The court said professionals decide what will be displayed at a museum, but the mayor is obligated to prevent offense to local people and thus may instruct municipal officials, including art and culture officials, to take this into account.

The judges noted that the museum is owned by the Haifa municipality and that some situations “could justify the intervention by the local-government head in public conflicts that erupt in his jurisdiction for the purpose of maintaining public order.”

According to the judges, “The freedom of expression that applies to exhibits of this nature must take into account the right of every visitor to the museum to freely choose to avoid viewing the exhibit or parts of it.”

Attorney Dan Yakir, the legal adviser for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said he planned to appeal to the Supreme Court. “The court ruling in the appeal confirms museums’ freedom to act and their independence,” he said.

“At the same time, it lets the mayor intervene in the artistic content of a cultural institution operating in the city when this is aimed at avoiding offense to the public. This isn’t only an erroneous legal ruling that ignores the attorney general’s position on the case, it leaves a very dangerous opening for intervention by elected officials in works staged at cultural institutions.”