Israeli museum to drop "McJesus" sculpture after protests

HAIFA, Israel, Jan 17 (Reuters) - An Israeli museum plans to withdraw a sculpture depicting the McDonald's mascot as the crucified Jesus following protests which briefly united the country's Christian minority, its populist culture minister and the pro-Palestinian artist.

The life-sized sculpture showing the Ronald McDonald clown on a cross has been at the center of an exhibition about consumerism and religion. Other pieces depict Jesus and the Virgin Mary as Ken and Barbie children's dolls.

Protests became violent on Friday. Police said they arrested one man on suspicion of assault and were searching for two others people who threw firebombs at the Haifa Museum of Art.

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'McJesus' sculpture sparks protests
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'McJesus' sculpture sparks protests
An artwork called "McJesus," which was sculpted by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen and depicts a crucified Ronald McDonald, is seen on display as part of the Haifa museum's "Sacred Goods" exhibit, in Haifa, Israel, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Hundreds of Christians calling for the sculpture's removal protested at the museum last week. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
An artwork called "McJesus," which was sculpted by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen and depicts a crucified Ronald McDonald, is seen on display as part of the Haifa museum's "Sacred Goods" exhibit, in Haifa, Israel, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Hundreds of Christians calling for the sculpture's removal protested at the museum last week. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
HAIFA, ISRAEL - JANUARY 13: An outside view of Haifa Museum of Art is seen in Haifa, Israel on January 13, 2019. Some of the pieces depicting Jesus, made by Finnish artist Jani Leinon, displayed as part of an exhibition called 'Sacred Goods', caused anger and reaction in the city. (Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
An artwork called "McJesus," which was sculpted by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen and depicts a crucified Ronald McDonald, is seen on display as part of the Haifa museum's "Sacred Goods" exhibit, in Haifa, Israel, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Hundreds of Christians calling for the sculpture's removal protested at the museum last week. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
HAIFA, ISRAEL - JANUARY 13: Placards, flags are hung and spray painted are made on direction signs by Christians protesting the exhibition, in front of the Haifa Museum of Art in Haifa, Israel on January 13, 2019. Some of the pieces depicting Jesus, made by Finnish artist Jani Leinon, displayed as part of an exhibition called 'Sacred Goods', caused anger and reaction in the city. (Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
An artwork called "McJesus," which was sculpted by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen and depicts a crucified Ronald McDonald, is seen on display as part of the Haifa museum's "Sacred Goods" exhibit, in Haifa, Israel, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Hundreds of Christians calling for the sculpture's removal protested at the museum last week. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
HAIFA, ISRAEL - JANUARY 13: An entrance of Haifa Museum of Art is seen in Haifa, Israel on January 13, 2019. Some of the pieces depicting Jesus, made by Finnish artist Jani Leinon, displayed as part of an exhibition called 'Sacred Goods', caused anger and reaction in the city. (Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
HAIFA, ISRAEL - JANUARY 13: Placards, flags are hung and spray painted are made on direction signs by Christians protesting the exhibition, in front of the Haifa Museum of Art in Haifa, Israel on January 13, 2019. Some of the pieces depicting Jesus, made by Finnish artist Jani Leinon, displayed as part of an exhibition called 'Sacred Goods', caused anger and reaction in the city. (Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
HAIFA, ISRAEL - JANUARY 13: Placards, flags are hung and spray painted are made on direction signs by Christians protesting the exhibition, in front of the Haifa Museum of Art in Haifa, Israel on January 13, 2019. Some of the pieces depicting Jesus, made by Finnish artist Jani Leinon, displayed as part of an exhibition called 'Sacred Goods', caused anger and reaction in the city. (Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
HAIFA, ISRAEL - JANUARY 13: Placards and flags are hung by Christians protesting the exhibition, in front of the Haifa Museum of Art in Haifa, Israel on January 13, 2019. Some of the pieces depicting Jesus, made by Finnish artist Jani Leinon, displayed as part of an exhibition called 'Sacred Goods', caused anger and reaction in the city. (Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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Three police officers were hurt as dozens of protesters tried to forcibly enter the museum, police said. Panes of glass along its entrance were smashed. Protests continued on Saturday.

"I object to this disgraceful sculpture," said Nicola Abdo, a Haifa resident and protester. "As a Christian person ... I take deep offense to this depiction of our symbols."

The mayor of the Jewish-Arab city of Haifa said on Thursday the sculpture would be taken out of the exhibition following consultations with church leaders.

"The sculpture will be removed and returned as soon as possible," Einat Kalish Rotem tweeted. "We regret the aggravation the Christian community experienced ... and the physical injury and violence that surrounded it."

She did not say when it would be removed, but it had been due to be returned to the Finnish museum that loaned it last year at the end of the month.

Christian Arabs, who make up around 2 percent of the Jewish majority country's population, found a champion for their anger in Miri Regev, the culture minister whose censure of art deemed pro-Palestinian has made her a darling of the Israeli right.

Citing the injury to religious sensitivities, Regev had threatened to cut state funds to the museum. Israel's Justice Ministry slapped her down, arguing she had no such authority.

The McJesus sculptor, Jani Leinonen, from Finland, had also demanded that the exhibit be removed as he was boycotting Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians.

Others saw in Thursday's decision a chance for reconciliation.

"The winner today is the people of Haifa,” said Wadie Abu Nassar, an adviser to local church leaders. "The removal of this sculpture is a reflection our desire to coexist in the city.”

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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