Civil liberties in Israel: ‘McJesus’ provokes flurry of controversy

This is an interesting one: a work of art which shows Ronald McDonald on a cross has been displayed in a museum in Haifa, Israel. Depending upon your perspective, you may find this: amusing; tasteless (insert lame joke about McDonald’s food here); tacky (ditto); offensive; or blasphemous.

There have been complaints from a local Catholic leader, as well as protests which have turned violent. Culture Minister Miri Regev has demanded that the work be removed from display, on the grounds that serious offence has been caused to Israel’s Christian community. The creator of the work, Finnish artist Jani Leinon, has said that the piece ‘critiques the way Ronald McDonald has become a pop culture symbol reminiscent of religious worship.’

The episode raises two interesting issues. Although it is not unheard of for Christians to protest at artistic works which they perceive to be blasphemous, I can’t think of other examples of such protests turning violent.

The key issue, though, is one that is clearly to Israel’s credit: the gallery has freedom to display the work because Israel is a liberal democracy, not a theocratic tyranny.

It is equally to Israel’s credit that Christians/Messianic Jews have the freedom (in theory, if not always in practice) to proclaim a message which others may find offensive.

Both of these need to be upheld, if Israel is to be a truly liberal, democratic and pluralist state for all of its citizens.

Such is the give and take of a free society.

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