Tel Aviv

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Tel Aviv's Art Museum, one of Israel's premier museums, has moved 200 of its most precious works of art to a rocket-proof vault in case of a missile attack.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

TEL AVIV, Israel — The wine-red walls of the Brueghel exhibition hall at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art are now bare, like the crime scene of a daring art heist.

Tel Aviv’s leading art museum, spooked by rocket attacks on Israel’s cultural capital, moved nearly 200 works Friday into a rocket-proof safe the size of an auditorium — including some 100 works painted by relatives of Flemish Renaissance master Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

“Even if there’s a very small possibility (of damage), we don’t play around. We don’t take chances,” said Doron J. Lurie, the senior curator and chief conservator. “We’ve guarded them like our own kids.”

One other Israeli art museum followed suit, hauling some of its most prized artworks into fortified vaults deep underground to protect them from the current round of Israel-Palestinian fighting. For nearly a week, the Israeli military has waged air strikes against Gaza, while Palestinian militants have barraged Israel with rocket fire.

In the southern city of Ashdod, which has suffered more frequent rocket barrages because of its proximity to Gaza, the curator of the Ashdod Art Museum — Monart Center took down 15 works of leading contemporary Israeli artist Tsibi Geva. On Sunday, he stashed them in a vault four floors underground designed to withstand rocket fire and biological weapons.

“It’s chutzpah to take a chance on them,” said curator Yuval Biton, using the Yiddish word for “audacious.” It was the first time the Ashdod museum had hid its art in the vault since it opened in 2003.

Israel has seen its fair share of incoming fire over the past decade: Hezbollah launched rockets that rained down during the 2006 Lebanon war, and rockets from Gaza have repeatedly been fired into Israel’s south.

Despite concerns about the risks, top masterworks are frequently exhibited in Israeli museums on loan from world institutions and collectors.

Only a few rockets have whistled over the skies of Tel Aviv during the current conflict, and the city is considered safer than other Israeli towns along the Gaza border. So the Tel Aviv museum let southern Israelis visit the museum for free — and reduced admission for everyone else to account for the 200 or so missing spots on the museum walls. The Israel Museum and Eretz Israel Museum also offered free and discounted entry.

Israeli movie director and social activist Yair Qedar conducts a Q-and-A Monday evening after the screening of his film “Gay Days”. The film is about the beginnings of the LGBTQ community in Israel.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

LGBTQ members and supporters in the United States can look to Israel as an example of hope for the future of same-sex rights where laws and culture are more open and accepting of other gender identities, said government senior and Texans for Israel president Zachary Garber.

Prominent Israeli LGBTQ activist and director Yair Qedar was invited to campus for a screening of his film “Gay Days,” a short documentary showcasing the emergence of the LGBTQ community in Tel Aviv, Israel, over the span of 30 years. The public screening, followed by a Q&A session with Qedar, was hosted by University Democrats and Texans for Israel along with Queer People of Color & Allies. Israel currently recognizes same-sex marriage and allows homosexuals to serve openly in the Israel Defense Forces, said Garber.

“LGBTQ rights in Israel are among the most developed in the world, and LGBTQ rights groups from across the Middle East are based in Israel precisely because of its stellar minority rights record,” Garber said. “The United States, on the other hand, has a pretty poor record when it comes to treating its LGBTQ communities, although it’s [slowly improving]. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed last year, and it appears the push for gay marriage is starting to have an effect.”

The film focused on several prominent figures who were central in promoting Israeli LGBTQ rights, ranging from military officers to popular musicians. The long struggle for these rights is something that should give current supporters hope, Garber said.

“I hope that students will be encouraged by the efforts on behalf of the LGBTQ community in Israel,” Garber said. “There was a lot of inertia to overcome in Israel as well, and nonetheless the country has made great strides in the last 30 years. Similarly there is a long road ahead here in the US, but those involved should not lose their motivation.”

Students currently face several gender issues on UT campus. Gender-inclusive housing as well as domestic partner benefits for faculty and staff are among the most important of these issues, said government junior and University Democrats President Huey Fischer.

“There are definitely things here at UT that we can make progress on and that we can push forward on,” Fischer said. “Seeing movements in other places, we can pick and choose and figure out what really works best for our community here. With University Democrats as an ally of the community, it’s something we’re really focused on progressing.”

Although Israel has made strides, the country is not homogenous, said an Israeli source who identifies as bisexual and asked to remain anonymous to protect his privacy.

“Just like Texas isn’t like New York, Jerusalem isn’t like Tel Aviv. Like Hollywood isn’t necessarily a realistic portrayal, neither are our films,” the source said in an email. “I think most importantly, there is a very loud outcry in Israel at the moment against the amount of control a religious belief of one group should have on another’s freedom, not just in sexual orientation but in everything.”

Printed on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 as: Israel advances LGBTQ rights