A piece of art depicting Ronald McDonald nailed to a cross — imitating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ — has sparked violent protests in Israel, with hundreds calling for the sculpture's removal.
Last week, hundreds of Arab Christians gathered to protest the sculpture, titled "McJesus," displayed at the Haifa Museum of Art in the northern city of Haifa, The Independent reports.
Israeli police say rioters hurled a firebomb at the museum and threw stones, wounding three police officers. Footage from the protest showed clashes between protesters and police as authorities used tear gas and stun grenades to clear the demonstrators. According to police, a few hundred demonstrators tried to forcibly enter the Haifa Museum of Art during the protest.
The depiction of a crucified Ronald McDonald was sculpted by Finnish artist Janei Leinonen and is part of the museum's "Sacred Goods" exhibit. The museum's website explains that the exhibit, which also features Barbie doll renditions of a bloodied Jesus and the Virgin Mary, “focuses on the responses of contemporary artists to issues of religion and faith in the contemporary global reality” and has been on display since August.
The protests, sparked by visitors sharing photos of the exhibit on social media, came after a firebomb was thrown at the museum overnight Thursday. Earlier in the week, Church representatives brought their grievances to the district court on Monday demanding the display's removal.
Israel's Culture Minister, Miri Regev, wrote to the director general of Haifa Museum saying she had received “many complaints of serious offense caused to the Christian community’s feelings” because of the artwork.
Regev said, “contempt for symbols sacred to religions and many believers around the world as an act of artistic protest is illegitimate and cannot be displayed in a cultural institution supported by state funds.”
Haifa Museum refused to remove the exhibit, however, saying that doing so would infringe on freedom of expression. Instead, Director Nissim Tal agreed to put a sign warning of potentially offensive content at the entrance to the exhibit.
"This is the maximum that we can do," Tal said. “If we take the art down, the next day we’ll have politicians demanding we take other things down and we’ll end up only with colorful pictures of flowers in the museum.”
"We will be defending freedom of speech, freedom of art, and freedom of culture, and will not take it down," he added.
Tal told reporters the artist behind "McJesus" is a Christian who created the piece to highlight the fact that "we are slaves and have a new God instead of the old God."
"We pray for McDonald's and the other companies," he said.
But Christians have vowed to continue protesting until the artwork is removed: “This is very offensive and I cannot consider this art,” Haifa artist and devout Christian Amir Ballan said. “We will continue through peaceful rallies and candle vigils. … We won’t be quiet until we reach a solution.”
An Arab Christian protestor told Walla! news that the government was not addressing the Arab Christian community's complaints because of their minority status in Israel.
“If they put up [a sculpture of] Hitler with a Torah scroll they would immediately respond,” he said.
"We need to understand that freedom of expression is interpreted in different ways in different societies," said Wadie Abu Nassar, an adviser to church leaders. "If this work was directed against non-Christians, the world would be turned upside down."