Despite Progress, Much Remains to Be Done in the Restoration of Art Plundered by the Nazis

Jan. 10 2019

The Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, signed by 44 countries in 1998, provide guidelines for the investigation of art that may have been looted by the Third Reich, and have allowed for the restitution of tens of thousands of works of art, books, and other objects. Yet, writes Stuart Eizenstat—one of the negotiators of the Washington Principles—much stolen artwork remains at large. In 2016 and 2018 Congress passed measures plugging certain legal loopholes that could interfere with the restitution of art to its rightful owners and their heirs:

Russia and a handful of other European nations that supported the Washington Principles have largely ignored or barely implemented them. Provenance research is a low priority in Europe’s public museums and nonexistent in its private collections; looted art still trades in the European market with little hindrance. De-accession laws prevent public museums from returning art under any circumstances.

Fortunately, the Washington Principles continue to exert a moral force. . . . [I]n late November, more than 1,000 representatives and stakeholders from more than ten countries gathered in Berlin for three days to measure our progress after twenty years and chart a road map for next steps. The Trump administration sent Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Thomas Yazdgerdi and me to recommit the U.S. to the international effort to return these personal and cultural treasures to the families to which they belong. We know this is the work of more than any single administration, indeed more than any single generation. . . .

No self-respecting government, art dealer, private collector, museum, or auction house should trade in or possess art stolen by the Nazis. We must all recommit ourselves to faithfully implementing the Washington Principles before Holocaust survivors breathe their last breath. We owe it not only to those who lost so much in the Holocaust but also to our own sense of moral justice.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Congress, Holocaust, Holocaust restitution, Nazi Germany

 

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria