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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’ingérance d’Israël dans la création

by Magali Jauffret

Israël’s Interference in Artistic Creation

Translated Tuesday 19 January 2016, by Henry Crapo

The Israëli embassy demanded the removal of a work by Ernest Pignon-Ernest that included an image of the Palestinian opposition leader Marwan Barghouti.

The art world is in revolt. And not that "world" alone. The Israëli embassy in Paris managed to censure a work of art, here in our own territory. Yielding to multiple pressures, the auction salesroom Artcurial retracted a work by Ernest Pignon-Ernest that bothered Israël. In one blow, the auction sale of 36 "front pages" of the newspaper Libération as "re-directed" by artists, was cancelled. This censure was orchestrated by Israël, and destroyed the initiative that, organised for the profit of Reporteurs sans frontières (RSF), had as aim the defense of liberty of expression in the world. A shame!

The affair, an embarrassing one, began to become known at the end of last week. Nothing had come up, until then, to bother the exposition "Artists Headlined for Liberty" (Artistes à la une pour la liberté), which brought together, in the Palais de Tokyo (Paris), at the initiative of the RSF, French artists and those of other nationalities, as diverse as Tania Mouraud, Jean-Michel Alberola, Ernest Pignon-Ernest, Robert Combas, Jean-Michel Othoniel, Françoise Pétrovitch and Jacques Villeglé, who were involved as artists in this project, serving a good cause.

Artcurial, with Dassault as investor, chooses to act

Ernest Pignon-Ernest had asked the newspaper staff to send him their front pages on Palestine. The painter, who, after the demise of Mahmoud Darwich, pasted up posters of the great Palestinian poet throughout the poet’s village, which had been destroyed by the advance of the colonisers, and by the construction of the wall, chose to intervene graphically, using the front page of November 12, 2004, for the day Yasser Arafat was buried. At the top, the empty head-dress (keffieh) of the Palestinian leader, and to the left of the big title "And now?" (Et maintenant), he pasted in the face of Marwan Barghouti, the political prisoner that Netanyahou jailed (illegally so with regard to international law), a charismatic figure incarnating the Palestinian resistance. And in his beautiful handwriting he wrote: "In 1980, when I drew Mandela, they told me he was a terrorist". In those days, when he pasted up images of Madiba on the walls of his city of Nice, as a sign of protest against the declaration of Nice as "sister city" of a city under apartheid, he heard the worst lies about Mandela, accused of being covered with the blood of the most odious crimes!

The comparison did not please the Israëli embassy, which addressed a letter to the lawyer of the auction house Artcurial, expicitly demanding that the lot #27 be withdrawn from the sale, declaring that "the portrait puts up for auction a terrorist project, all the while pretending that it concerns a man of peace" (...) and "risks bringing prejudice to the reputation, until now irreproachable, of your gallery." A message that has a certain ring of menace. Artcurial, a company in which Dassault is an investor, chooses to act. François Tajan delegate president of the sales room, adds his piece. He asks that the layout of the catalogue, in press, be retracted. And no problem if the exposition of the 36 "recomposed" front pages continues, shocking no one, at the Earth Gallery, 35 avenue Matignon.

The PCF denounces this allegiance to Israël

The director of Libération, Laurent Joffrin, recalls, in a letter to the embassy, "We exercise no censorship on the work of artists", and are offended that anything "let it be believed that we act under the influence of a foreign embassy, respectable though it may be."

On learning of this act of censorship, the artists wish, by solidarity, the retraction of their own work from the sale, which was already lame. The PCF Parti Communiste Française
denounces this "irruption of the Israëli embassy which attacks the liberty of expression". Reporters without Borders refuses this order, refuses to work with Artcurial, and is seeking other partners for the sale.

In his studio, Ernest Pignon-Ernest feels himself surrounded by friends, He receives one telephone call after another. He is astonished that a foreign embassy can decide what one can display, or not, and that an auction house will so easily succumb to pressure. Nevertheless, he will make no petition or communiqué. In these troubled times, he does not wish to provoke, to poison, to use others, or to be instrumentalised.

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