TEL AVIV (Jan. 19)
The blood was fake, but the diplomatic spat over a Swedish art exhibit depicting a Palestinian suicide bomber was very real.
The incident that sparked the brouhaha occurred last week at a genocide conference in Stockholm. The conference was supposed to be free of references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a tacit deal watched closely by Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, Zvi Mazel.
But Dror Feiler, 51, a kibbutz-born artist who renounced his Israeli citizenship two decades ago, apparently did not get the message: His artwork, a portrait of Palestinian suicide bomber Hanadai Jaradet floating in a white boat in a bath full of blood-red water, dominated the display at the Museum of National Antiquities.
Jaradet, a female lawyer from Jenin, killed 21 people and herself when she bombed Haifa’s Maxim restaurant last October.
The sight of Jaradet’s victims reduced to a pool of red dye in Feiler’s piece, “Snow White and the Madness of Truth,” was too much for Mazel.
After remonstrating unsuccessfully with conference organizers on Friday, Mazel took matters into his own hands, with a television camera crew in tow. First, he forcibly unplugged the lamps around the display, toppling one over. He then interrupted a presentation Feiler was giving and ended up being hustled out, along with his hapless bodyguard.
The dapper envoy’s rampage won instant backing in Jerusalem, which has been eyeing the restive pro-Palestinian community in Sweden for months.
“The government stands behind” Mazel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his Cabinet on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned Sweden’s ambassador to Israel, Robert Rydberg, for an explanation of the offending exhibit.
“I understand that the whole problem is based by and large on a misunderstanding,” Rydberg told reporters afterward. He said it was wrong to interpret Feiler’s work, which he admitted may have been in “bad taste,” as praising Palestinian terrorism.
For his part, Feiler was unapologetic.
Jaradet is another example of how the inhumanity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict perpetuates itself, he said. The Snow White reference in the piece’s title, he said, was inspired by the terrorist’s pale makeup in her portrait photograph.
He allowed that Jaradet’s pristine image was shattered by her attack.
“That’s what happens when you push someone into a corner. That person becomes a monster,” Feiler told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, alluding to Israel’s military actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He accused Mazel of trying to stymie free speech.
There was no immediate word from Sweden on charges leveled in the Israeli media that an art display more sympathetic to the Jewish state was removed from the conference at the request of the Syrian Embassy.
Nor was it clear why Mazel had been refused the chance to confront Feiler publicly at Friday’s soiree in Stockholm.
The head of Sweden’s Jewish community, Leah Pozner-Kershaw, criticized Mazel after the incident, saying it would aggravate the situation in a European country she said trailed only Belgium and France in anti-Semitism.
“Most Swedes are quite upset that an ambassador reacted so strongly and with force to a piece of art,” Pozner-Kershaw told Israel’s Channel Two television. “This is getting too much attention.”
“The issue is not whether this is or isn’t a good artwork,” a Tel Aviv museum curator, Tami Katz-Freiman, told the Jerusalem Post. “The issue is that there are legitimate ways to express opposition to a work of art, and vandalism is not one of them.”
“If this is what an Israeli ambassador does abroad, who is to prevent people from coming to the Tel Aviv museum and vandalizing works they find politically disturbing?”