WASHINGTON (JTA) — 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 State Department needed to first vet the set of six lamps, Fox said, and they were not ready in time for the party.
Three months later, 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 exhibition 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 former director of the authority, who organized the sending of the lamps, told the Journal that “Saul Fox operated transparently with the antiquities authority.” PJC