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

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East