Israeli Fracas Over Nude Painting Ends in Compromise at Art School

The head of the art school has withdrawn his resignation, filed after the censorship of a risqué painting of the justice minister, following announcement of new academic ethics council.

Yam Amrani's painting of Ayelet Shaked, after it was censored.
Arnon Ben Dor / TimeOut

The head of an Israeli art school has rescinded the resignation he submitted last week following an uproar over censorship of a nude painting of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

Larry Abramson, the art chief at Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art, announced his return on Wednesday after a compromise with the college’s president, Yuli Tamir.

Abramson had resigned after advising artist Yam Amrani to either remove the painting from an exhibition or cover Shaked’s face. Amrani opted to cover Shaked’s face with a black X and oval.

Abramson had been acting on the advice of Tamir, who said the move was not political but simply took women’s sensibilities into account.

Speaking Wednesday at the college at a conference on freedom of expression, Abramson also announced the establishment of an academic ethics council. The panel would make decisions on the school’s policy on controversial works; Tamir would no longer make those calls on her own.

“The fight for freedom of expression at Shenkar that I embarked on last Thursday ... is my first public battle to bear real fruit within just a few days, and because of these results I decided yesterday to withdraw my resignation,” Abramson said.

He also mentioned his “efforts to abolish the censorship that was imposed on the painting, in light of the legal opinion that was presented to the administration, which will remain in place.”

“Moreover, the way the censorship was imposed was unacceptable – by a direct administrative order from the college president to the head of the school, without any reasonable process of discussion and/or appeal,” Abramson said.

He said he had met with Shenkar’s board members, president and dean, leading to a decision that “can also set an example for other institutions in creating a buffer between the administrative and academic departments.”

“Censoring a painting is clearly a blow to freedom of expression,” he said. “Establishing the council at Shenkar and enshrining its standing in the Shenkar statutes is an action that will prevent arbitrary restrictions of freedom of expression.”

The ethics panel will be made up of the Shenkar president, the dean of the relevant faculty, three lecturers from different disciplines within the faculty, a board member and a student-council member. The institution’s legal consultant will attend but will not vote.

Also, department heads will present to the ethics council works that the council should discuss two weeks before the graduating class’ exhibition. The college will also establish a defense fund for students who might face lawsuits related to their work presented in Shenkar exhibitions.

Tamir said she welcomed the agreement and the cancellation of Abramson’s resignation. She called the compromise a “precedent-setting” decision that “makes discussion possible.”

“I must add that as a woman who does not support any of Ayelet Shaked’s positions, on this subject I felt that there was a situation of hurting not the opinion but the person, and I believe that people in politics also deserve respect, and that this must be protected,” she said.

“I would have done the same thing if it was Zehava Galon or Haneen Zoabi,” she added, referring to the leader of the left-wing Meretz party and an outspoken Arab Knesset member.

“Personally, I could have very easily taken the other side and won adoration,   but I decided not to gain media points but to bear the cost of the criticism so that the school could survive.”