Donald Trump provides a nonstop stream of outrageous, appalling, and gross headlines, and we’ve come to take that for granted. This is the weirdest Trump news in a while, though. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that Israeli antiquities loaned to the White House in 2019 are now at … Mar-a-Lago. Israel would like them back but has been unable to get them.
The antiquities, including ancient ceramic oil lamps that are part of Israel’s national treasures collection, were supposed to be displayed at the White House for Hanukkah, then returned within weeks. They didn’t end up being displayed, but they weren’t returned on time, either, and then the COVID-19 pandemic complicated efforts to reclaim them. “We wanted our man to go and bring it back, but then Covid broke out, and everything got stuck,” Israel Hasson, then the director of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, told Haaretz.
The next plan was to have American Saul Fox, a major donor to the Israeli Antiquities Authority, keep the antiquities until they could be returned. But then somehow they ended up at Mar-a-Lago and efforts to get them back have been unsuccessful.
These are not classified documents, and no one seems to be saying that Donald Trump is keeping them on purpose or asserting his divine right to them, though he doesn’t get much benefit of the doubt on this. It’s reportedly not even certain that he knows they’re at Mar-a-Lago. But apparently senior Israeli officials and Trump’s own former ambassador to Israel haven’t been able to convince him to find the antiquities and return them either. One Haaretz source said he wouldn’t be surprised if “the items Israel seeks are also eventually found in some bathroom.”
This is definitely a major WTF. Why weren’t the antiquities displayed at the White House to begin with? Why weren’t they returned more promptly? Sure, COVID-19 got in the way of getting them back a couple months after the fact, but they were only supposed to be in the U.S. for a few weeks—they should have been back in Israel before COVID-19 became a significant factor in international travel. What the heck happened in the four years since? And especially, especially, Mar-a-Lago? For real? Were they left at the White House and in January 2021, Trump or one of his flunkies just kind of tossed them into a box with other things he was taking whether he was entitled to them or not? The Trump administration’s handling of gifts from foreign dignitaries was as messy as you might imagine, so by the time he was leaving the White House a year after the antiquities arrived from Israel on what was intended to be a short-term loan, it’s plausible that he, or whoever was packing for him, had mentally categorized them as gifts.
Whatever happened here, it seems like Trump could easily send someone—maybe not Walt Nauta this time—to search the bathrooms and storage spaces of Mar-a-Lago to make Israel happy.