Thursday, July 28, 2022

Summary of July 26, 2022, Cultural Property Advisory Committee Meeting to Discuss Proposed MOU Renewals with Belize and Libya

         On July 26, 2022, the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) met to consider proposed renewals of MOUs with Belize and Libya.  CPAC is comprised of the following members: (1) Stefan Passantino (Chairman- Public); (2) Steven Bledsoe (Public); (3) Karol Wight (Museums); (4) J.D. Demming (Public); (5) Ricardo St. Hilaire (Archaeology); (6) Joan Connelly (Archaeology); Rachael Fulton Brown (Archaeology); (7) Anthony Wisniewski (Collector-Sale of International Cultural Property); (8) Mark Hendricks (Sale of International Cultural Property); and (9) David Tamasi (International Sale of Cultural Property).  Because CPAC was meeting in person after a long hiatus due to the pandemic, it was unfortunately impossible to determine if all members were present. 

            Michelle Prior, a program officer for the Cultural Heritage Center, was also present to run the Zoom presentation.   Again, other Cultural Heritage Center staff may have been in the room, but it was impossible to tell given the Zoom image quality. 

                Chairman Passantino welcomed the speakers.  He acknowledged “familiar faces” and commented there were new speakers for this session.  He indicated that each speaker would be given 5 minutes for their presentation.  He asked Committee members to hold questions to the end.  He further indicated that speakers would be grouped, with those discussing Belize alone or Belize and Libya speaking first.

                Dr. Eleanor King (Howard University) spoke on her own behalf as well as for the Society for American Archaeology.  Belize meets all the criteria for a renewal.  Its cultural heritage is still in danger due to looting which is exacerbated by its rugged terrain and porous borders.  Belize does take self-help measures in the form of awareness campaigns against looting, posters warning about purchasing looted objects, and workshops devoted to the subject.  Import restrictions are not only the best available method to prevent importation of stolen objects, but they are also the only real ones available. Given the porous nature of Belize’s borders and the country’s restricted resources, it would be impossible to seal all exit points from the country.  Finally, there are extensive collaborative efforts between US and Belizean archaeologists.

                Dr. King’s written comments can be found here:

                Dr. Brian Daniels (Smithsonian and University of Pennsylvania) spoke on behalf of the Archaeological Institute of America (“AIA”).  Dr. Daniels indicated that the AIA’s membership comprised of approximately 200,000 professional archaeologists, corresponding members, students, and enthusiasts.  Both Belize and Libya have met all the necessary criteria for renewal.  Both Libya and Belize still suffer from looting.  Both have dedicated archaeological departments. Although the archaeological departments in Libya must answer to different governments, they operate with the same common purpose.  Dr. Daniels indicates ASOR will provide further information on Libya.  There are a host of collaborative projects with Belize.  Before the 2011 Revolution, the AIA ran tours to Libya. The AIA also ran tours to Belize before Covid.

                The AIA’s written comments on Belize can be found here:

                The AIA’s written comments on Libya can be found here:

                Stephen Knerly (Hahn Loeser) spoke on behalf of the Association of Art Museum Directors (“AAMD”).  He first addressed Libya.  He first questioned if Jewish artifacts can be considered Libyan state property now because antiques held prior to 1968 were not state property under Libyan law.   He noted there are a host of issues related to the scope of the designated list if CPAC decides to recommend a renewal of the MOU with Libya.  With regard to the MOU with Belize, he criticized the open-ended nature of the designated list of archaeological material, effectively being extended an extra five years with every renewal.  He also criticized the Form Article II that has been put in place in more recent agreements.  These should be tailored to the individual countries. 

                The AAMD’s written comments on Libya and Belize may be found here:   

                Peter Tompa (Peter Tompa Law) spoke on behalf of the International Association of Professional Numismatists (“IAPN”).  His comments focused on Libya.  ASOR received $800,000 in State Department grants that paid for work that was then used to justify renewing this MOU.  However, on a closer look, the report ASOR submitted actually demonstrates that Libya has not taken adequate self-help measures to justify a renewal.  He also noted that one cannot assume most coins on the designated list are only found in Libya, or even that they “circulated primarily” there, which is the State Department’s own standard.  The State Department should at least be held to its own standard and the coin types that do not meet it should be delisted.  Tompa  finally indicated we should all look forward to the day Libya is at peace and the $800,000 given to ASOR to help justify a renewed MOU with Libya can instead be used to fund a Portable Antiquities Scheme in Libya. 

                Peter Tompa’s complete oral comments can be found here:

                His personal written comments can be found here:

                IAPN’s written comments on Libya may be found here:

                IAPN’s written comments on Belize may be found here:

                Randolph Myers spoke on behalf of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (“ACCG”).  He first noted that the 28-day notice provided for public comment, while far better than the 5 days allowed for comment on proposed emergency import restrictions for Afghanistan, still falls far short of the 60 days public notice period under the Administrative Procedure Act.  He also noted the injustice of import restrictions on Jewish cultural artifacts. He indicated that hoard evidence proved that most types of coins on the current designated list are found in far greater frequency outside of Libya than they are found inside Libya.  This is particularly true for the famous type with the Silphium plant on the reverse which was made to pay mercenaries from Crete.  He further indicated that the MOU has not been effective with only one Immigration and Customs Enforcement seizure of an artifact that left Libya at least 10 years prior to the MOU. 

                The ACCG’s written comments may be found here:

                Kate FitzGibbon spoke on behalf of the Committee for Cultural Policy (“CCP”) and the Global Heritage Alliance (“GHA”).  She focused on Libya.  One cannot conflate Libya and Belize.  There is no functioning government in Libya.  Reports from British archaeologists do not paint the same picture as in the ASOR report.  There is poor stewardship of Libya’s cultural heritage.  The overbroad designated list encompasses 13,000 years of Libyan history.  Ambiguities in that list recognize Libya as the de-facto custodian of the cultural heritage of its displaced Jewish population.  The MOU should be terminated.  Alternatively, CPAC should only recommend new emergency restrictions on limited numbers of cultural goods consistent with the statute. 

                The CCP’s and GHA’s written comments about Libya can be found here:

                The CCP’s and GHA’s written comments about Belize can be found here:

                Gina Waldman spoke on her own behalf as well as Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (“JIMENA”).  She was born in Tripoli, from which she and her family were brutally expelled.  The driver of the bus meant to take her out of the country instead set it afire with her and her family in it.  She was saved by British Christians and eventually settled in California.  MOUs are supposed to stop looted property, but here the Libyan government was the looter.  Libya took all the Jewish community’s religious artifacts, and all its private and communal property.  Unless the current MOU is re-written to explicitly exclude Jewish and Christian property, the MOU will legitimize Libya’s confiscations of minority cultural heritage and property.  There was a carve out done in the MOU with Morocco and the same should be done here.  Libya has desecrated the synagogue where Ms. Waldman worshiped by turning it into an Islamic Center.  She has presented CPAC with a video showing this desecration.  The person who took the video was arrested and was sentenced to 8 months in a Libyan prison.  Libyan authorities have robbed the Jewish community, desecrated its synagogues, and even erected skyscrapers over its cemeteries.  Libya cannot be considered a custodian of Jewish cultural heritage.

                JIMENA’s written comments can be found here:

                Raphael Luzon was born in Benghazi.  This MOU will just justify the Libyan Government’s taking of Jewish property.  CPAC should follow the Moroccan example and recommend an exemption for Jewish cultural heritage.  There needs to be a carve-out for Jewish religious articles. Libya has robbed its Jewish citizens.  He understands Libyan Jewish cultural heritage was carted up and put in a storeroom.  He does not know what happened to it.  A Synagogue he attended has now been converted into a Coptic Church. 

                David Gerbi is a doctor in psychology and the President of “ASTREL,” an organization which represents the Jews of Libya in exile.  He now lives in Israel and appeared on zoom from a museum in Israel devoted to commemorating Libya’s Jewish diaspora.  In 1967, when he was 12 years of age, he spent days hiding with his family from a rampaging mob that was looting and destroying Jewish homes and businesses.  In 2002, Ghaddafi invited him to Libya to visit his aunt, the last Libyan Jew.  Ghaddafi wanted his help in normalizing relations with the United States.  He was fearful he would suffer the same fate as Saddam Hussein.  Mr. Gerbi worked with Congressman Tom Lantos on this issue and after relations with the U.S. were normalized Qaddafi invited him to Libya in 2007 to see Jewish sites and restore DAR BISHI Synagogue.  However, during his trip he was arrested and the money he raised to restore the Synagogue was stolen.  He was deported to Malta without any money.   After he got back to Rome, there was an assassination attempt and he moved to Israel.  In 2009, Qaddafi reconciled with him and again invited him home to restore the Synagogue, but this never happened.  After the 2011 Revolution, he was invited back to serve in the government, but on his arrival, he was threatened with death and fled again with the help of the Italian Government.  He recently was invited back to Tripoli to restore Synagogues but was again threatened with death and was forced to leave again. 

                Rabbi Eric Fusfield spoke on behalf of B’nai B’rith International.  B’nai B’rith is our nation’s oldest and best-known Jewish advocacy and social service organization, promoting the rights and concerns of the Jewish community on a wide range of issues.  No issue is of greater importance to the Jewish community than the rights of the nearly one million Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.  Nowhere did this Jewish presence end more tragically than in Libya, where Jews had lived since the 4th Century B.C.E. and numbered as many as 40,000 in the early 1900s but lost their entire population as a result of anti-Semitic pogroms and immigration to Israel.  The cultural patrimony of the Libyan Jewish diaspora is gravely threatened by the absence of guarantees to custody of materials that are rightfully theirs. The Jewish community wrote a letter in December 2018 requesting the exclusion of Jewish ritual items from the current Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Libya. However, the previous administration’s refusal to acknowledge the letter amounted to a de facto U.S. recognition of Libya’s confiscation of Jewish properties in 1958 and 1969 and to the persecution Libyan Jewry suffered at the hands of the regime.  This MOU legitimizes the confiscation of Jewish property seized by Libya’s government when Jews were forced from the country.  B’nai B’rith strongly urges the Committee to include a derogation, or carve-out, for Jewish personal and communal property should this MOU be renewed. We have seen a precedent for this in the Morocco MOU, which clearly and explicitly excluded Jewish property from its scope. To do less would be nothing short of a betrayal of American values.

                B’nai B’rith’s written comments can be found here:

                 Panina Meghnagi is from the Libyan diaspora.  She had to flee her home in Tripoli with one suitcase.  Her family had to leave everything behind.  They were stripped searched on leaving the country.  Jews lived in Libya for 2,000 years before being driven out.  Their cultural heritage has been destroyed, buried under Autostradas and Skyscrapers.   There were 40,000 Jews living in Libya in the 1940’s.  Pogroms took place in the 1950s.  During the 1960’s most Jews and Christians fled the country.  She implored the Committee to “love us” and do not renew this MOU.  Morocco is a good example of a country that preserves its Jewish heritage. 

                Dr. Andrew Vaughn is the Executive Director of the American Society of Overseas Research (“ASOR”) and as Co-Director of ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives (“ASOR CHI”).  Dr. Vaughn participated in meetings with Libyan cultural heritage officials in Tunisia.  He was impressed with their motivation to work cooperatively to protect Libya’s cultural assets.  Government actors and supporting militias are not involved in the antiquities trade which helps with enforcement.  There have been instances where the public has returned chance finds to members of the Department of Antiquities.  He has been working with Libya’s Department of Antiquities (“DOA”) towards creating temporary exhibitions in the US of material seized under the MOU. The DOA looks on ASOR as partners.  Preservation efforts include that of materials of minority populations as a counter to extremism.  Dr. Vaughn polled Libyan cultural heritage officials who indicated that ancient coins are the most looted item.  (Note- they are also one of the most common ancient artifacts, see Tompa individual comments).

                Dr. Vaughn’s written comments on behalf of ASOR can be found here:

                Will Raynolds is the co-director of ASOR-Cultural Heritage Initiative. Despite the division of the DOA under two separate governments, the separate entities work well together.  ASOR has intensive collaborations with both DOAs and smaller, local groups.  Since the signing of the MOU, there have been sincere efforts to protect Libya’s cultural heritage.  Raynolds was particularly heartened by voluntary returns of objects by Libyan citizens. 

                Raynold’s written comments on behalf of ASOR can be found here:

                As more than an hour had already been devoted to public comment, Chairman Passantino asked questions from members of the Committee to be kept short. 

                An unidentified CPAC member indicated that he believed speakers from the Jewish Diaspora had made a compelling case for exempting Jewish artifacts from any new import restrictions.  He asked Dr. Vaughn about his views on the subject.  Dr. Vaughn does not answer the question, and instead indicates he is not familiar with the legal aspects of such a decision. 

                Anthony Wisniewski asked Stephen Knerly if there were credible enforcement efforts taking place in Libya.  He indicated that there are no such efforts and that is but one piece of Libya’s failure to undertake self-help measures. 

                Anthony Wisniewski pointed Kate FitzGibbon to page 18 of her submission where she discussed the State Department’s application of a “circulated primarily” standard as a trigger for import restrictions on coins.  Ms. FitzGibbon confirmed that the standard contradicts the governing statute’s limitation of import restrictions to coins “first discovered within, and subject to export control” by Libya.

                She also noted that with two DOAs in Libya there is no effective enforcement of cultural heritage laws.

                Anthony Wisniewski pointed Peter Tompa to page 7 of IAPN’s submission which discussed the current designated list for Libya.  He asked if there were any Roman Imperial coins struck in Libya.  Mr. Tompa indicated that such coins were not struck in Libya and as stated in a footnote only 0.18 % of all Roman Imperial coin hoards with Italian mint coins are found in Libya.  Anthony Wisniewski also asked about Greek Coins.  Mr. Tompa agreed with Mr. Wisniewski that the Greek designated list excludes large denomination stater and tetradrachm coins.  Mr. Tompa stated that hoard evidence indicates that Greek silver and gold coins from Libyan mints did not “circulate primarily” there because the vast majority are found outside Libya.  This includes high denomination tetradrachm coins from Cyrene and Barce as well as the stater size coins with the silphium plant on the reverse mostly found in Crete as described in Randolph Myer’s testimony.

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