A golden statue of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, set up in a Tel Aviv plaza and dubbed “King Bibi” by the artist and activist who created it, caused astonishment at passers-by and repudiation of the country’s Ministry of Culture on Tuesday .
Sculptor Itay Zalait told reporters that he installed the premier’s four-meter-high effigy on a white pedestal in Rabin Square, adjacent to the city hall, to test the limits of freedom of expression in Israel.
The Israeli government and artists are embroiled in a “cultural war” over steps taken by Culture Minister Miri Regev to withhold state funds from institutions that do not express loyalty to the state.
Posting on Facebook after the sculpture was installed, Regev called it an “expression of hatred against Netanyahu.” City officials in Tel Aviv have ordered Zalait to remove the image and said they will remove it and fine him if he does not.
People who went to work in the morning soon gathered to take photos and discuss whether the statue should be seen as a debauchery of Netanyahu or a tribute to the right-wing prime minister, currently in his fourth term and known by his childhood nickname “Bibi.”
“In social networks, there were tens of thousands of comments about ‘King Bibi’,” Zalait told Army Radio when asked what inspired him to make the statue.
“I simply turned it into a reality and put it in its rightful place, the Plaza of the Kings of Israel,” he said, referring to the name the square had before being renamed in honor of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister Murdered by an ultranationalist Jew during a peace demonstration on the spot in 1995.
Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, have been the target of frequent investigations and headlines questioning whether state funds have been used to maintain what critics denounce as a sumptuous lifestyle.
Both denied any improper use of taxpayers’ money.