JERUSALEM — Like something out of a mystical biblical tale, Israelis awoke Tuesday morning to find that a giant golden statue of their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is standing luminous and solitary in a central Tel Aviv square.

The 14-foot gilded effigy, reminiscent of self-serving statues once erected by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, caught officials and residents off guard. No one knew from where the mysterious statue, occupying the iconic Rabin Square adjacent to Tel Aviv’s city hall, had come.

By lunchtime it had been toppled over.

Yael Dayan, daughter of the late Israeli politician and military leader Moshe Dayan and a former Tel Aviv city council chairwoman, told local outlet i24news that the statue was a provocation that needed to be removed immediately.

“The sick idea of putting a golden calf — a statue of Benjamin Netanyahu in Rabin Square, which is the square where Rabin was assassinated upon the incitement of Netanyahu — he is a winner, a golden calf of the Bible, and people are, what, expected to respect it?” she said. “If it is a joke, it is a bad joke.”

Later it transpired that the work was a prank of sorts, a provocative artwork by sculptor Itay Zalait. Naming the statue “King Bibi,” (the prime minister’s nickname), he told Israeli media that he had wanted to test the limits of free speech and see the public response.

“The goal is to test the limits of freedom of expression in 2016. What will happen when I place a statue like this?” the artist told Israel’s Channel 2 News. “Will it result in consequences, such as an arrest for example, or will they only remove it?”

Almost immediately, Tel Aviv's city council ordered Zalait to remove the statue. That did not, however, stem the public debate countrywide about the growing legacy of Israel’s longtime leader, who shows no signs of being toppled in reality.

Israeli news outlets filmed live reaction from the crowds that had gathered to see their leader in set in stone — and the shouting matches that erupted over how someone could have the audacity to show disrespect by knocking over the statue of the prime minister, despite the story behind the placing of the statue.

Last month, Netanyahu, who has been elected to office four times, surpassed Israel’s founder, David Ben Gurion, as the prime minister serving the longest consecutive term. And, he shows no signs of being replaced. Critics say this is because he has eliminatied the competition and weakened Israel’s media, which often takes issue with him and his policies.

Last week in a lengthy Facebook post, Netanyahu launched a scathing attack on the media, accusing journalists of waging a war against him and his family. He singled out Raviv Drucker, a prominent Israeli journalist who has been a thorn in the prime minister’s side for many years, bringing to light every salacious scandal or accusation against the Netanyahus.

As for the King Bibi statue, which some said was deserving of the Israeli prime minister's stature, Netanyahu did not comment.

The artist, however, told Israeli media that the effigy was just the beginning of his guerrilla art project.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Moshe Dayan as a former prime minister of Israel. Dayan was a politician and military leader.