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Israel artist displays golden statue of Netanyahu in protest

TEL AVIV, Israel — Tel Aviv residents woke up Tuesday to an unusual site — a golden statue of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displayed prominently in front of City Hall in an act of protest.

Itay Zalait, the artist behind the protest, said he worked on the life-size statue for two months before placing it in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square overnight. He said his goal was to test freedom of expression with a reference to the biblical golden calf, and a dig at what he calls some Israelis' idolatry of Netanyahu.

For half the day, curious onlookers stopped by the statue to snap selfies with some mockingly saluting it. Everyone more or less knew the gleaming Netanyahu depiction on a stand would soon be gone.

Netanyahu was elected last year to a fourth term in office and has served consecutively since 2009 and for more than 10 years overall as premier.

"Many people in Israel refer to Benjamin Netanyahu as 'The King Bibi' so it was only natural to put the king on the Square of the Kings, the previous name of Rabin Square," the artist told The Associated Press. "I just want to ask the question like to see if it's going to make some change in the people's mind."

Alex Ansky, an actor and radio host who stopped by the spot, noted that Jewish tradition frowns upon the display of statues. "You don't have statues like this in all of Israel," he said. "The provocation is touching a very, very, very open wound in this country."

Zalait's stunt also sparked political reactions, with opposition figures calling it a witty form of protest against Netanyahu's lengthy rule.

Culture Minister Miri Regev, a staunch Netanyahu backer, responded on Facebook that all it represented was an elite class "whose only golden calf is the hatred of Netanyahu."

Tel Aviv City Hall said it respected its residents' freedom of expression but ordered that the statue be removed by 1 p.m. because it was placed without a permit.

Just before the deadline, a bystander knocked the statue to ground. Some had been calling for Netanyahu to be "toppled."

The statue was then taken away from Rabin Square by Zalait.

The artist's protest was over.


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