Former President Donald Trump released a statement on Thursday saying that he intends to return a set of ancient oil lamps to the Israel Antiquities Authority
“These historic items were presented by a representative of the Israeli antiquities authority with the full support of the organization,” the Wall Street Journal quoted an unidentified Trump spokesman as saying. “As the items were displayed as originally intended, the office will be expediting their return to the organization’s representative.”
Haaretz news reported earlier this week that the IAA had been requesting the return of the antiquities for several months but they had not been returned.
Saul Fox, a Jewish Republican donor based in California, requested the Israel Antiquities Authority present the lamps to Trump at the White House Hanukkah party in 2019 to thank him for his policies benefitting Israel. Fox is also a generous donor to the IAA. The IAA agreed but with the understanding that they would be returned after the party. The lamps were ultimately not displayed after some White House officials expressed concern that they may have originated in Judea and Samaria, and their display would have been in contravention of international antiquities law.
Israeli officials told Haaretz that the items remained in the US for a time since the IAA did not want to send them back to Israel on a regular flight or with an international shipping company for fear they would be damaged. The IAA intended to send one of its employees to personally collect the artifacts and return them to Israel. Pandemic travel restrictions made this impossible.
The artifacts were entrusted to Saul Fox in the interim. A paid courier delivered them to Fox and he stored them in his house. “[He] sort of forgot about it,” Fox told the Wall Street Journal. In 2021, Fox was invited by Trump to a dinner party at Mar-A-Lago, Trump’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Fox presented the lamps to Trump in a special box designed by his girlfriend.
While he was at Mar-a-Lago, Fox received an urgent message from the director of the Israeli Antiquities Authority saying there had been a “miscommunication,” and that Fox had to return the lamps.
Fox ignored the message and presented the lamps to Trump, believing that while they remained the property of the Authority they were to be a “permanent exhibit of Israel’s national treasures” in Trump’s custody. The authority again asked Fox to get the lamps back, but he resisted, finding the request offensive.
The report said Eli Escozido, the current director of the IAA, requested the assistance of Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, who was the Israeli ambassador to the US in 2019, and of former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, in retrieving the artifacts.