Last resort: antiquities Israel loaned to Trump are stranded at Mar-a-Lago

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Several antiquities on loan from Israel to the United States since 2019 have been stuck for months at Mar-a-Lago, the Florida residence of Donald Trump, with authorities struggling to get them back. According to a report in Haaretz, the Israel Antiquities Authority had sent the objects to the White House under the Trump administration on the condition that they be returned within weeks, but they ended up following the former president to his private estate.

The report did not include a full inventory of the sought-after antiquities, but among them are ancient clay lamps that are part of Israel’s National Treasures collection. These were intended for display at the White House’s traditional lighting event to recognise Hanukkah but ultimately not brought out “due to a bureaucratic difficulty raised by the Americans”, according to Haaretz.

Israeli antiquities authorities intended to send a representative to collect the items in person, rather than risk any damage that may arise from shipment. However, the Covid-19 pandemic placed all plans on hold. The Antiquities Authority instead asked Saul Fox, a major American Jewish donor to the governing body—who had attended the 2019 Hanukkah celebration with Trump—to take care of the objects. Fox has also supported the creation of a national centre for antique coins in Jerusalem that bears his name.

Israeli officials, however, learned several months ago that the antiquities have been held at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s primary residence since September 2019. According to Haaretz, it is unclear whether the former president has been aware of their whereabouts. The director of the Antiquities Authority, Eli Eskozido, has asked Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the minister of strategic affairs and David M. Friedman, former US ambassador to Israel, for help in recovering the items.

As part of a federal investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents, FBI agents raided his gilded residence and private club last August, when they found boxes of files stored in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom, among other unusual locales. Asked about the loaned antiquities, a source told Haaretz that he wouldn’t be surprised if “the items Israel seeks are also eventually found in some bathroom there”.

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