Trump to return ancient lamps to Israel after antiquities authority said to protest

Former president’s spokesperson says artifacts being expedited back to Israel, after report they were sent for a short display at White House and ended up at Mar-a-Lago

An oil lamp uncovered in Jerusalem's Old City, June 27, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90 )
Illustrative: An oil lamp uncovered in Jerusalem's Old City, June 27, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

WASHINGTON — Former US president Donald Trump says he will 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.”

The announcement, published on Thursday, came after a revelation this week in Haaretz that the Israel Antiquities Authority had been asking for the return of the lamps for months, to no avail.

Saul Fox, the Jewish Republican donor who gave Trump the priceless items, told the Journal that he believes that the items were meant to be in Trump’s custody permanently.

Fox, who is based in California and is also a major donor to the Israel Antiquities Authority, said that he originally asked the authority to present Trump with the lamps at the White House Hanukkah party in 2019 to thank him for his Israel policies.

The IAA had expected the lamps would be returned after a few weeks.

Former US president and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during a Team Trump Volunteer Leadership Training at the Grimes Community Center in Grimes, Iowa, on June 1, 2023. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP)

The lamps did arrive in the US but were eventually not displayed in the White House, after US government officials raised concerns that they may have originated in the West Bank, 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 Authority planned for one of its employees to go to the US and recover the lamps, but then came the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the whole operation was put on hold. The artifacts were entrusted to Saul Fox in the meantime.

Fox said he paid for a courier to bring him the lamps. He stored them in his house “and sort of forgot about it,” he told the Journal. Then in 2021, Trump invited Fox to attend a dinner at Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s Florida estate. Fox’s girlfriend designed a presentation case for the lamps.

While he was at Mar-a-Lago, Fox got 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 current director of the IAA Eli Escozido had 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.

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