Last Supper of Israeli democracy: Artist takes aim at Netanyahu with life-size statue


World, Middle East

Critics accuse Netanyahu of clinging to power while on trial for corruption and using emergency powers under the guise of battling COVID-19

An installation depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a mock "Last Supper" by Israeli artist Itay Zalait, is placed at Rabin square in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP)

Tel Aviv: Residents of the city of Tel Aviv woke up Wednesday to a jarring site: a pop-up exhibit depicting a life-size statue of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enjoying a lavish meal by himself at a sprawling table in a mock re-enactment of the Last Supper.

The installation, displayed in Tel Aviv’s central Rabin Square, is the latest twist in a summer of demonstrations against Netanyahu. In recent weeks, thousands of people have taken to the streets, calling on Netanyahu to resign, angry over what they say is his bungled response to an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus and depicting him as a hedonist out of touch with common people.

Many critics accuse him of trampling over Israel’s democratic traditions as he clings to power while on trial for corruption charges and pushes for emergency powers under the guise of battling the coronavirus crisis.

In an interview earlier this week from his studio outside Tel Aviv, artist Itay Zalait said the installation, made of polymer materials and painted in lively colours, is meant to symbolize the “last supper of the Israeli democracy.”

The 10-meter (11-yard) long table is filled with platters of juicy fruit, wads of cash, empty bottles of liquor and a cigar — a jab at the expensive gifts Netanyahu is accused of improperly accepting from wealthy associates. Netanyahu, appearing pudgy and dishevelled in a dark suit and red tie, is seen digging into a large cake — alone amid 12 empty chairs.

“You have the prime minister of Israel sitting in the centre of the table and grabbing and sucking all this rich food to himself. Now he’s practically finished this meal and he’s now at the stage of the dessert, which is referring to the last minutes of time we can do something to save Israeli democracy,” Zalait said.

Zalait said he found the imagery particularly poignant at a time when unemployment has skyrocketed and tens of thousands of families are struggling because of the coronavirus restrictions that have battered Israel’s economy.

The message resonated with Tel Aviv resident Sharon Toval.

“Everyone hopes that this is really Bibi’s last supper. The corruption and disgust are suggested by the disgusting abundance of so much food with meat and milk and cream and sweets, Toval said.

It’s not the first time Zalait has taken to life-size art to express his opinion. Two years ago, he erected a statue of Israel’s then-culture minister, Miri Regev, wearing a long white dress and staring into a full-length mirror. The depiction was meant to protest Regev’s calls for legislation requiring artists to show “loyalty” to the state.

Before that, he built a golden statue of Netanyahu to mock what he said was the idolatry of many Israelis toward the longtime leader.

Regev, currently the country’s transportation minister, denounced Zalait’s latest public exhibit as incitement to violence.

“Is someone suggesting that the prime minister’s future be that of the diner at the Last Supper?” she wrote on Twitter. “It’s only a matter of time until there is an exhibit of the gallows and a rope.”

Lawmaker Tamar Zandberg of the leftist Meretz party responded to Regev and others by saying that rather than condemning a work of art, it would be more appropriate for them to denounce the violence their supporters have directed recently against peaceful protesters on the streets.