The double standard reared its ugly head in Israel last week. A student at the prestigious Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Yerushalayim exhibited a poster of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with a noose in front of his head. Incitement or freedom of expression?
The student’s lawyer claims the student didn’t actually mean to create such a poster. “She was involved in an exercise in computer graphics, and the choice of the photo and materials is coincidental,” said Rami Othman, as if nooses positioned near heads had no meaning whatsoever. “There was never any intent to portray or imply a lynching. The rope is not around the prime minister’s head.”
The school was adamant that its students’ creativity must never be compromised by concerns that they may be crossing the line into incitement. Who knows? Once they have to take into account the consequences of their work, they might be stymied. Nothing must be allowed to come in the way of their creativity.
In its coverage of the story, the media, as usual, was forgiving. The questions it posed were easy (the fact that the student was an Arab was barely mentioned), and they let the whole thing drop quickly, without pressing for any serious consequences.
But imagine what the reaction would have been had the poster been displayed in a yeshivah high school in Yehudah or Shomron, depicting Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On with a noose instead of Netanyahu. The media coverage would have been ruthless; the Rabbis would have been blasted for stoking hatred and inciting to murder. There would have been calls for the police, prosecutors and courts to throw the book at the school in order to nip the problem in the bud. At the very least, there would have been calls to shut down the institution or cut its funding.
But what’s accepted as freedom of expression from the left is vilified as incitement from the right.
Two weeks ago, a sculptor put up a gold-plated statue of Netanyahu in front of Tel Aviv’s city hall. The statue, which the artist dubbed “King Bibi,” was pulled down in a way that was reminiscent of the iconic Saddam Hussein statue that was brought down after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The intent was clearly to depict the prime minister as a tyrant, and tyrants are deposed in only one way — and it isn’t elections.
But, again, the media and police treated the matter with kid gloves.
It’s no wonder that the public, according to a survey released this week, is increasingly losing its confidence in the government and its institutions.
People see that a few houses in Amona are torn down because of claims by people in Jordan that they were built on their property. The residents are evicted even before the purported owners have proven their claim and even though they will never live there. But when a resident of Har Nof proves in court that Bedouins in the Negev have built a school on his property, there is no urgency in redressing the injustice.
They see how university professors can get away with calling Jewish children in Chevron Nazi youth and refusing to continue with their lecture if a student doing military reserve duty enters the classroom in his uniform. But when the current IDF chief chaplain, in his capacity as a Rav and educator, tells his students the truth about how the Torah views certain lifestyles, he is pilloried in the media as a bigot.
The freedom of art students to be ‘creative’ is sacrosanct, but the freedom of Rabbanim to teach Torah is not. University professors can say and do whatever they want, in the name of academic freedom, but Rabbanim are expected to toe the line of political correctness.
The Bezalel student responsible for the poster should have been questioned and warned by the police, but not arrested. What she did was in poor taste, immature, offensive, and could have had severe consequences, but in this day of instant communication, arrests for such infractions are futile.
However, the police should treat those on the right who do offensive things in the same way.
Putting an end to the double standard is a first step toward restoring the faith of the public in the government and its institutions.