Police on Tuesday opened an official investigation into the now-infamous poster that was discovered at the Betzalel Art Academy in Yerushalayim that depicted a rope in front of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s head, implying that he could or should be hung. State Attorney Avihai Mandelblit authorized the investigation, and charges of incitement to violence are likely to be filed against the perpetrator, if and when s/he is found.
The poster – which has since been removed – was apparently part of an improvised “exhibit” on incitement. Hanging on the wall near the Netanyahu poster were others, featuring statements that were cited as inciting to violence against murdered Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. A banner hanging next to the display read “this is what incitement looks like.”
The Netanyahu poster is a takeoff on a famous poster that was issued when Barack Obama first became President of the United States, with a stylized illustration of Obama and the word “Hope” printed below. In the Netanyahu poster, the Prime Minister appears in the same stylized manner, with the word “Rope” displayed.
The poster was the subject of condemnation on the left and right. Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev slammed the poster and the institution, saying that “freedom of speech is not freedom to incite to violence. Last week it was an insulting statue in the center of Tel Aviv, and now it’s a poster advocating a lynching. If this was a picture of Zionist Camp Chairman Yitzchak Herzog, someone would be under arrest right now.”
Regev called on Education Minister Naftali Bennett to cut off funding to Betzalel. In a social media post, Bennett called the poster “shameful. If these people cannot set limits for themselves, the limits will be set for them. Freedom of academic expression does not provide a license to incite to murder, or to incite against Israel. It also does not permit hurting the sensibilities of students who do not agree with political stances that differ from their professors’. Israeli citizens spend NIS 11 billion a year on higher education, and it is our right to demand an end to incitement on campus.”
Herzog himself condemned the poster. “Freedom of speech is necessary and important, but there is no place for incitement against leaders of the left or right,” he said. “Especially now, as the voices of stridency increase, we need to step back and show our responsibility. This is not our way.”
Herzog added: “We will defeat Netanyahu democratically.”
The poster, according to the school, was the creation of a student who decided to design it and display it at the school. There was no call for criticism of the poster, as it was “art,” the school said in a statement. “Betzalel is a protected zone for freedom of expression and allows students freedom to express themselves in a critical and creative way on a number of issues that interest them.
“In any event, this work is part of a dialogue that is internal to an academic institution that deals with important issues of design, character and culture. The poster evokes incitement against former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. The exercise, whether successful or not, is part of the academic discussion, hanging on the wall of an academic institution, and is not being displayed in public. Therefore, there is no issue of incitement involved.”
Ram Shefa, chairman of the Israel Students Union, also said that he saw no problem with the poster. “In recent months, we have been witness to ongoing attempts to silence people, and to incite people. These two things go together, and could lead to an explosive situation. Freedom of speech is extremely important to us as students, especially in the arts, and in academia in general. All ideas and opinions are welcome, but of course we reject incitement.”