2019-10-08 | Blog


October 8, 2019

The Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the U.S. Department of State has been signing Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) agreements with foreign governments that blockade the entry of cultural property to the USA and deny Jews and Christians from Arab countries the rights to their historic heritage. Through the MOU process, our government is transferring ownership of confiscated Jewish property to various Arab governments that expelled or forced their Jewish populations to flee antisemitic persecution under duress. Despite the protestations of Jewish communal organizations, including; ADL: The Anti-Defamation League, Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, B’nai Brith International, Simon Wiesenthal Center, World Jewish Congress of North America, and many others, MOU agreements have been signed with Algeria, Libya, Egypt and Syria.

The signing of the MOUs is done under the auspices of The Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). This law provides for the US to enter into agreements with foreign nations to temporarily restrict the import of “significant” cultural items as part of a multi-nation effort to deter looting of ancient archeological sites. Over time the State Department has broadened the scope of the law to provide for “near permanent” bans on the import of ALL cultural items to the present time. The MOUs recognize those nation’s claims and seizures of all cultural property, including the personal property of individuals and the communal property of religious and ethnic groups.

The MOUs are based on a flawed premise – that Jewish cultural property constitutes the national heritage of Arab governments. In fact, under the color of law, Jewish cultural property in Arab countries was expropriated from private homes, schools, and synagogues. It is the heritage and patrimony of the Jewish people. Arab governments have done little to preserve the remnants or memory of Jewish history in the countries and verified reports describe Jewish synagogues, pilgrimage sites, homes, and cemeteries being looted and destroyed. Jewish holy sites throughout the Middle East and North Africa have been appropriated and many demolished.

TAKE ACTION: Yemen and Morocco MOU Request Hearings, October 29th – 30th, 2019


The Cultural Advisory Committee of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is the governing body responsible for signing MOU agreements. The committee will meet on October 29th – 30th, 2019 to review MOU requests from Yemen and Morocco. The public may participate by submitting comments virtually, by submitting written comments and/or by participating in person.

To participate in the virtual open session:

The public may participate in the virtual open session of the meeting on October 29, 2019, from 1:30 to 2:30 pm EDT, using Zoom. Anyone may participate. Please RSVP by October 15th to participate in the virtual session by contacting the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at culprop@state.gov.

To submit written comments:

Use regulations.gov, enter docket DOS-2019-0031, and follow the prompts to submit written comments.

To participate in person:

If you wish to participate in the open session at the meeting, you must request to be scheduled by October 23, 2019, via email (culprop@state.gov) in order to be guaranteed a slot. Please submit your name and organizational affiliation in this request. After you pre-register, you will be provided with instructions on how to participate.

For more information on how to participate, click here.

General Talking points for public comment, op-eds & communication with elected officials

  • The State Department has accelerated the timeline for action to minimize the opportunity for the Jewish community and others to oppose this action. The call for public comment was made during the Jewish High Holidays.
  • MOUs with Arab governments are based on a flawed premise – that Jewish cultural property constitutes the national heritage of Arab countries. In fact, Jewish cultural property in Arab countries was expropriated from private homes, schools, and synagogues.
  • MOUs claim to be about looting, but their broad scope and limited evidence of success suggests their real impact is providing a legal vehicle to legitimize foreign confiscations and wrongful ownership claims of confiscated Jewish property. Legitimate efforts to curb looting are essential, but they must be targeted to preserve archaeological resources, and not to disguise the brazen cultural property confiscations of Jewish and Christian communities throughout the region.
  • We ask that the State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Heritage adheres to the limitations set by Congress under the Cultural Property Implementation Act by denying broad, excessive import restrictions to nations that have neither valued nor cherished the ancient heritage of Jewish, Christian, and other minority peoples.
  • MOUs from the Middle East should include provisions that list and name specific Jewish and Christian items to be excluded from the restricted list of items.
  • The proposed MOUs would legitimize Arab government’s confiscation of Jewish Communal Property. A Red List from Yemen outlines the cultural property the government seeks to take ownership of and it includes Torah scrolls.
  • MOUs demand that the governments themselves show they are taking measures to preserve and protect the heritage in their own countries and the Yemeni government is complicit in the bombing and shelling of cultural sites, including museums.
  • Yemen should be asked to present an inventory of remaining Jewish moveable and non-movable patrimony and an account of what they are actively doing with respect to the care of synagogues, cemeteries and other sites and items of Jewish and Christian heritage. 
  • U.S. imports from Yemen indicate that the U.S. is not a destination for looted or stolen material. Proponents of import restrictions point to looting of museums, but such material is already subject to detention and seizure under the National Stolen Property Act.
  • Article 17 of the U.N Declaration of Human Rights states that no individual or community should be arbitrarily deprived of their property. Therefore, the United States should not enter into any agreement, and should withdraw from any existing agreements, with a foreign state that either condones, supports or promotes any Article 17 violation by that state.
  • If you are former Jewish refugee from an Arab country, or the descendant of one you are encouraged to speak from a compelling, emotional place and share your family story and perspective. What did you or your family leave behind? What does it mean to you that a government who failed to protect your rights is now laying claim to your property?

For more information

Jewish Communal Letter to Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo Regarding Cultural Property Agreements

Letter to Secretary of Treasury, Steven Mnuchin Regarding Yemen Emergency Import Restrictions 

Yemen’s Red List of cultural property they seek to take ownership of – including Torah scrolls

Cultural Property Observer, Short Comment Period for Proposed MOU’s with Morocco and Yemen

Yemeni Jews arrested for allegedly helping to smuggle Torah to Israel: report

Pattern of Abuse: Iraqi Jewish Archive & MOUs