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

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat