ATADA's Response to Libyan Government's Claims to Jewish and Ethnic Tribal Heritage

On July 20, 2017, ATADA urged the Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the Department of State to reject the Libyan government's claim to Jewish and ethnic tribal heritage. A request to block all art and artifacts from Libya up to 1911 from entering the United States appears to be the next step in a movement to bar entry of all art from the Middle East to the US. The Libyan Request for a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) will limit access of all Libyan-Americans to their heritage, regardless of their religious or ethnic background, will prevent US museums from acquiring representative examples of Libya’s place in world art history, and is a slap in the face to Jewish citizens whose families were forced to leave Libya, abandoning all they had.

The Libyan request is extremely broad, covering the entire history of the geographic region that is Libyan territory from the Paleolithic through the Ottoman Era (12,000 B.C.-1750 A.D.). and on its ethnological material dating from 1551 to 1911 A.D. It covers everything from prehistoric tools to Classical antiquities of the Roman period to Islamic furniture, brassware and calligraphy to nomadic herdsmen’s baskets and cooking pots – and everything in between. The request is generic and expansive, rather than specific, as the statute, the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), requires.

The ethnographic materials also include all Tuareg and Berber items of material culture up to the year 1911, made from stone, metal, ceramic and clay, wood, bone and ivory, glass, textile, basketry and rope, leather and parchment, and writing.

In the attached 9-page response to the Libyan request, ATADA states that not a single criteria set by Congress is met in Libya’s request, whether in the case of Classical antiquities, which the Libyan government has said were not at risk of looting or destruction only a few months ago, in the ethnographic materials of the Tuareg, or in the artifacts remaining from Libya’s Jewish community, which was some 40,000 people in the early 20th century, but not a single Jew remains today.