'McJesus' Sculpture Causes Chaos In Israel

A museum in Haifa is refusing to take down artwork depicting a crucified Ronald McDonald, despite violent clashes.

Three police officers needed medical treatment for head wounds on Friday as they tried to stop hundreds of protesters from hurling stones at the Haifa Museum of Art, after being blocked from breaking in to remove the piece.

A video tweeted by local news station, Channel 10 TV News- Israel, shows violent scuffles breaking out before officers are forced to use tear gas and stun grenades to clear the protesters.

It's understood one protester even threw a molotov cocktail at the building.

"McJesus" was created by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen in 2015 and has been on display as part of the Sacred Goods exhibit in Haifa since August.

"The artists participating in the exhibition employ religious symbols to criticize the encroachment of the consumer culture on our lives in general, and on the religious sphere in particular", according to the museum's official website.

"The image of crucified Jesus appears as a subversive element in the works of Jani Leinonen, Magnus Gjoen, and Nick Stern -- provocative works that address the collaboration between religious systems and the consumer culture," it says.

IMAGE: Jani Leinonen

The artist at the centre of the drama, Jani Leinonen, said the piece was never supposed to have been in the Haifa Museum of Art in the first place.

He told the Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the news of the protests came as a shock, "came to me as an upsetting surprise, particularly because my work is in the exhibition against my wishes."

He claims to have told the exhibit's curator that he didn't want the sculpture to be on show.

“Israel overtly uses culture as a form of propaganda to whitewash or justify its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid over the Palestinian people.

"Therefore I do not wish to be part of this exhibition and I asked the museum to take my artwork off the exhibition,” he said.

An entrance of Haifa Museum of Art, January 13, 2019. IMAGE: Getty

Ahead of the protests, culture minister Miri Regev wrote to the museum's director general calling for the artwork to be taken down.

“Disrespect of religious symbols sacred to many worshipers in the world as an act of artistic protest is illegitimate and cannot serve as art at a cultural institution supported by state funds,” she wrote.

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Apparently, the requests fell on deaf ears. A spokesperson for the museum said it has never received a request to remove the sculpture.

Director Nissim Tal has now agreed to put a sign warning of potentially offensive content at the entrance to the exhibit, but the actual piece remains on show, with the exhibit not due to end until mid-February.

Whether the artwork stays or goes is still up for discussion.