JERUSALEM: Israeli police opened an investigation on Tuesday after a poster showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a hangman’s noose was displayed at an art school in Jerusalem.
The poster, designed to look like the iconic “Hope” picture of US President Barack Obama but instead reading “Rope”, drew sharp condemnation from Culture Minister Miri Regev and led to debate over freedom of expression.
Copies of the poster, which showed a noose dangling in front of Netanyahu’s face, hung briefly in a stairwell at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design before it was taken down, Israeli media reported.
Police said they opened an investigation over “suspicions of incitement”.
The academy said the poster was “part of an ongoing conversation on what constitutes incitement through art”.
“The work in question is an expression by an individual student and in no way, shape or form reflects the views of our institution, our faculty or administration,” Michal Turgeman, Bezalel spokeswoman, said in a statement.
“We plan to cooperate fully in the ongoing investigation.”
Regev, who has frequently clashed with left-leaning Israeli artists, called for state funding to the academy to be cut.
“Artistic freedom is not freedom to incite,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
The academy’s student union said “we certainly do not support messages calling for violence and incitement of any kind whatever and even oppose that.”
“However, as a design institution, we believe in the freedom of expression and art and are for providing an expression for the entire rainbow of opinions, within the boundaries of the law,” it said, quoted by the Ynet news website.
The poster was the second work of art to raise Regev’s ire in a week.
On December 6, a four-metre-high golden statue of Netanyahu was raised secretly in a Tel Aviv square in a free speech protest and was later toppled by a member of the public.
Regev criticised the artist and said such moves were driven by “hatred of Netanyahu”.
Left-leaning artists have accused Netanyahu’s government of seeking to muzzle them, particularly with Regev’s promotion of a bill to cut subsidies to cultural institutions deemed not “loyal” to the state.
Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 by a Jewish extremist has made the country particularly sensitive to incitement against its leaders.
Netanyahu has faced criticism that he helped feed anger toward Rabin over the Oslo peace accords with inflammatory rhetoric before the assassination.
The premier has strongly denied such accusations and pointed out occasions in which he condemned incitement against Rabin.