(JTA) — Two Austrian cities are removing statues created by a prominent artist after the artist shared a picture of the Israeli flag with the star of David made up of syringes, the latest in a series of protests against pandemic rules to feature antisemitic tropes.
Manfred Kielnhofer is a sculptor whose “Guardian of Time” series features priest-link masculine figures draped in linen. One of those figures was included in the image that Kielnhofer posted on Facebook, which was surrounded by words including “Jewish.”
The posting comes as Austria is on the verge of becoming the first country to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for all adults, a move that is drawing protest from critics of the country’s pandemic rules.
Kielnhofer told BezirksRundSchau, a local newspaper, that he “overshot the mark” with the image, but nonetheless defended it as part of his proclivity to creating “critical things.” He said the text had been added by someone else who had hacked his computer but the criticism of Jews was intentional.
Vaccine manufacturers “are often Jewish. I read that somewhere. Look who the bosses of the pharmaceutical industry are,” Kielnhofer told the newspaper. (The CEO of Pfizer, which produced one widely used vaccine, is Jewish.)
In response to the posting, the city of Steyr is putting a sculpture from the “Guardian of Time” series into storage. And the mayor of Linz, Klaus Luger, said that his city government is ending an agreement to display a “Guardian of Time” statue on a central street, Der Standard reported.
“I’m speechless and shocked by the insidious tastelessness of this conspiracy theory,” Alfred Weidinger, the director of the cultural department of the state of Upper Austria, of which Linz is the capital city, told the APA news agency.
“The mindset of the creator of this illustration represents a threat to all democratic, humane and solidarity values in our country,” Weidinger said. “Even artistic freedom has its limits.”