Jan. 18 (UPI) -- An artwork depicting a crucified Ronald McDonald will be removed from an exhibit at an Israeli art gallery, the mayor said.
Hundreds of Arab Christians in Haifa clashed with police last week at a demonstration against the sculpture, called "McJesus," outside the Haifa Museum of Art. Miri Regev, Israel's minister for culture and sport, threatened to withhold museum funding unless the artwork was taken down. Finnish artist Jani Leinonen, who created the piece, also requested his work be removed, citing his support for a boycott against Israel.
Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch Rotem said Wednesday the sculpture will be taken down within days.
"Without any connection, we believe in freedom of speech as a cornerstone of democracy," she wrote. "We regret the distress experienced by the Christian community in Haifa, and the physical injury and violence that followed. We thank the heads of the Christian churches and priests in Haifa for the dialogue and desire to bridge, the effort to reach a solution, and to prevent violence."
Among the groups critical of the removal is the Israeli human rights advocacy group Association for Citizen Rights.
"The decision by Mayor Kalisch-Rotem is a capitulation to violence and a severe violation of artistic freedom of expression," the organization said in a statement. "The mayor of the city, like the minister of culture, is not authorized to determine what is displayed and what will not be exhibited in the municipal museum."
The sculpture, which hangs on a wall like a crucifix but features the globally-known McDonald's advertising image, is part of an exhibit named "Sacred Goods."
The museum, on its website, describes the exhibit as focusing "on the responses of contemporary artists to issues of religion and faith in the contemporary global reality, which is dominated by the consumer culture."
Three more exhibition sculptures by Leinonen could also come down next week, after Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decides whether to pursue a case against them. The Haifa District Court received a petition from local Christian church groups to remove Leinonen's artwork.