‘McJesus’ artwork to be removed from Haifa museum, Kalisch Rotem says

A sculpture of a crucified Ronald McDonald will be removed from an art museum in Israel after the display sparked violent protests, the mayor of Haifa said. 

The artwork by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen, titled “McJesus,” shows Ronald McDonald on the cross and had been on loan to the Haifa Museum of Art from a museum in Helsinki.

In a tweet along with a picture of the work’s borrowing agreement, mayor Einat Kalisch Rotem said the sculpture would be removed “as soon as possible.”

“In an agreement with the church leaders, and since the lending agreement for the sculpture ends in the coming days, it will be removed, and returned as soon as possible,” Kalisch Rotem tweeted, according to the Times of Israel’s translation.

The loan had already been set to expire in January, the agreement shows.

Hundreds of Arab Christians demonstrated at the museum last week to call for the sculpture’s removal, the Times of Israel and Associated Press reported. According to the AP, police said protesters threw a firebomb at the museum and stones that wounded three police officers. Police used tear gas and stun grenades in response, per the AP.

According to the Guardian, Arab Christians only account for 2 percent of Israel’s population.

Museum director Nissim Tal told the AP that the backlash surprised him given that the exhibit had been on display for months. The work’s loan began in June, per the agreement Kalisch Rotem tweeted.

The museum’s website says the exhibit, called “Sacred Goods,” “focuses on the responses of contemporary artists to issues of religion and faith in the contemporary global reality, which is dominated by the consumer culture.”

The museum described Leinonen’s work and others in the exhibit as “subversive” and “provocative works that address the collaboration between religious systems and the consumer culture.”

The artist told the Jerusalem Post earlier this week that he didn’t intend for the sculpture to be shown in Haifa. 

The protests “came to me as an upsetting surprise, particularly because my work is in the exhibition against my wishes,” Leinonen told the newspaper.

Leinonen also said that he had asked the museum to remove the work and that he supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement – aimed at pressuring Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories.

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev had also called for the work’s removal, but the museum had resisted, citing freedom of expression.

“Without any connection, we believe in freedom of speech as a cornerstone of democracy,” Kalisch Rotem tweeted, according to the Times of Israel’s translation. “We regret the distress experienced by the Christian community in Haifa, and the physical injury and violence that followed. We thank the heads of the Christian churches and priests in Haifa for the dialogue and desire to bridge, the effort to reach a solution, and to prevent violence.”

Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller

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