Below is Kate Fitz Gibbon’s statement to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the US Department of State during their July 19th session to discuss the Libyan government’s request for a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The requested MOU provides legal recognition of Libyan claims to Jewish property and bars entry of Libyan Jewish patrimony to the USA, setting a dangerous precedence for neighboring countries to follow suit.
Kate Fitz Gibbon is a practicing attorney and the Executive Director of Committee for Cultural Policy, a 501c3 that was formed to address an urgent need – to reform UC cultural policy to become transparent, accountable, and consistent with public benefit. We thank her for advocating for Libyan Jews.
“I am speaking today on behalf of ATADA (Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association), a nonprofit professional organization representing art dealers, private collectors, and museums that exhibit ethnographic and tribal art. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak.
Written submissions by ATADA, which I represent, the AAMD (Association of Art Museum Directors), and others have laid out just how the Libyan request fails to meet the four criteria mandated by Congress. They have also addressed Libya’s lack of qualification for an emergency Agreement.
Even the official Summary, which tries to put the best face possible on the Libyan request, makes clear that the losses taking place in Libya are due to negligence and deliberate destruction enabled by the Libyan government, or its current lack of a government, not to an international market for looted Libyan artifacts. This is a clear failure to meet Determinations 1 and 2.
As time is very short, I want to focus on two elements of the request.
The 7-day time frame for public comment has meant that American Jewish organizations were unaware of this request in time to comment or speak. I have been given additional information by a number of US Jewish organizations in the last few days.
They are outraged that this request would grant the Libyan government rights to Jewish property and bar entry of Libyan Jewish patrimony to the USA.
This MOU would not only set a dangerous precedent for neighboring countries, it will place both the community and private property of Libyan Jews, seized by the repressive governments that drove them out of the country after thousands of years, in the hands of yet another intolerant and destructive regime. The jeopardy of pillage is from the various Libyan factions, including the current government in Tripoli.
This deliberate destruction of the Jewish community has a long history. Considering only the 20th and 21st century, this includes massive seizures of property, concentration camps in the desert, forced emigrations, and Jews having to abandon virtually all assets. Libya’s Jewish population has been reduced from about 40,000 individuals in the early 20th century to just one in 2003, an elderly lady found in a nursing home and airlifted to Italy.
This regime has denied access to ancestral homes and synagogues in the recent post-Gaddafi years as well, as David Gerbi discovered when he returned to try and rebuild a synagogue, which was shut against him after two days. Dr. Gerbi also wrote to me about boxes of Jewish bones filling a room in Benghazi.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a photo of the beach at Tripoli with buildings in the background. This is called the Bourge El Fatah, and it is built on top of an ancient Jewish cemetery. The bones and headstones were just thrown aside in construction. This MOU will be an opportunity to continue to desecrate, not preserve, Jewish artifacts.
There is a second issue to address with the Libyan Request. The CPIA requires that ethnographic material be “important to the cultural heritage of a people because of its distinctive characteristics or comparative rarity.”
In no way does Tuareg material from Libya meet congressional criteria.
Yet the Libyan government appears to claim ownership and control over Tuareg and Berber ethnological materials up to 1911, the date of Italian colonization.
There are perhaps 3 million Tuareg living in eight Saharan countries. Of these, only 15-20 thousand live in Libya. A tiny percentage.
Of the over 2900 Tuareg artifacts in the Musee Du Quai Branly in Paris, only 4 items are identified as coming from Libya: a tambourine, a talisman and 2 photographs.
The Tuareg are traders. They make household goods and jewelry. They trade with other Saharans and sell these folk crafts in Europe and the UK as well as the U.S. There is no meeting of Determinations 1 or 3. There is no way to distinguish between a Tuareg item of 50-100 years of age that would be lawful to import under an MOU and one 120 years old that would be unlawful, or to tell apart Libyan items from those of other Saharan nations.
The 1983 CPIA, used as Congress intended, is a tool that can preserve at-risk archaeological sites and benefit the US public by encouraging cultural exchange. Neither interest is served in the Libyan request, which places nationalism, a colonial concept if there ever was one, above both humanitarian concerns and the public interest.”
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