Saturday, January 17, 2004

STOCKHOLM — Israel demanded yesterday that a Swedish art museum take down an exhibit depicting a Palestinian suicide bomber, claiming it violates the terms of an upcoming conference on preventing genocide.

The demand came a day after Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, Zvi Mazel, vandalized the exhibit at the Museum of National Antiquities by throwing a spotlight at it.

The artwork consisted of a small ship carrying a picture of Islamic Jihad militant Hanadi Jaradat sailing in a pool of red water. Jaradat killed herself and 21 others in an Oct. 4 bombing in Haifa, Israel.

“This was not a piece of art. This was a monstrosity, an obscene distortion of reality,” Mr. Mazel told Swedish Radio.

In further comments yesterday, he called the work “a complete legitimization of genocide, the murder of innocent people, innocent civilians, under the guise of culture.”

“When you stand before that you ask yourself what exactly are people thinking? Do they understand at all what is happening? Do they have feelings? Where is this all going?” he said in an interview with Israel TV’s Channel One.

The museum exhibition was timed to coincide with an international conference on preventing genocide that opens in Stockholm later this month.

In Israel, Foreign Ministry spokesman David Saranga said the exhibit broke an understanding Israel had with Sweden that the scope of the conference would not include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Israel called the Swedish government to remove this exhibition because it is a glorification of a woman suicide bomber that killed 21 Israeli civilians in a restaurant,” Mr. Saranga said.

Sweden’s Foreign Ministry said Mr. Mazel will be asked to explain his attack this week. “We will ask him to explain, and from our side we will maintain that it is unacceptable to destroy works of art in this way,” ministry spokeswoman Anna Larsson said.

The work — titled “Snow White and the Madness of Truth” — was created by Dror Feiler, an Israeli-born artist who said it was supposed to call attention to how weak people left alone can be capable of horrible things.

He called Mr. Mazel’s actions a blow to artistic expression. “If this makes him very upset, it is possible to understand if he wishes to argue, if he wants to protest. But to behave like a hooligan?” the artist told Channel One.

Museum Director Kristian Berg said the ambassador’s attack “struck a discordant note” with the theme of the upcoming conference.

“You can react to art in many ways, but violence is never defensible,” Mr. Berg said, adding that Mr. Mazel would be invited to the museum this week for a discussion about different interpretations of art.

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