Israel’s largest museum in Tel Aviv was robbed in broad daylight on Thursday, raising questions about the country’s long-term status as a crime haven.
The raid on the museum’s main exhibition hall on the outskirts of the city by a group of masked men in camouflage fatigues was one of several such attacks on art exhibitions and exhibitions of art in recent months in Israel, the world’s largest democracy and the birthplace of Israel’s independence movement.
A security official said the suspects took the building as part of an ongoing campaign to target Israeli art, which Israel considers to be a threat to its security.
“We don’t know who these people are,” the official said, declining to give any details about the perpetrators.
“We have no idea whether they were the ones who took the museum.
But they are not good people, they are criminals.”
The raid came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, visited the museum and took pictures with some of the work.
The attack comes amid a wave of crime-related vandalism in Israel over the past few years that has killed more than 400 people and wounded hundreds of others.
Israel’s justice minister, Tzipi Livni, has pledged to crack down on art theft, calling the vandalism a threat not just to Israel but to international peace.
Ahead of Netanyahu’s visit, she also announced plans to hire more security guards for the countrys largest public museum.
She said the extra guards would help police prevent future crimes.
But for many Israelis, art is a cultural staple and a major source of income.
It is also seen as an important symbol of Israeli identity, an integral part of the nation’s identity and the reason for its national pride.
Artists say they are being targeted because they are seen as being too politically conservative and for their artworks to be seen as “politically incorrect”.
They are also wary of what they see as a growing trend in Israel for large, public displays of Jewish culture.
“Art is one of the most sacred objects in the Jewish people’s history, a symbol of the past, and is a cornerstone of their religion,” said Dina Pazdaran, an art historian and co-founder of the Israeli National Museum in Tel-Aviv.
“Israel is not a country where people like me can be free to express myself,” she said.
“But now we are in the danger of being punished for expressing ourselves.”
Livni and her ministers, both of whom are also members of Netanyahu ‘s ruling Likud party, have faced calls to ban large-scale displays of religious symbols.
The government has defended such displays, arguing they are part of a vibrant and diverse cultural tradition.
But some critics of the ban argue that religious symbols are too often seen as symbols of the country.
Art is a nationalistic symbol for Israel.
It symbolises a country that has survived as a Jewish state, Pazidaran said.
Israel was built on the back of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“There are no other people who can claim to be Israeli and yet be a symbol for the Israeli state,” she added.
Israel is also known for its reputation for high standards in protecting its culture and heritage.
Pazdan’s museum was among the world leaders in the 1980s and 1990s to host the world premiere of the new Holocaust exhibition.