Donald Trump has apparently been shamed into returning ancient Israeli artifacts. All it took was the nation going public with its efforts to get its antiquities back from Mar-a-Lago. After all, it’s not like the ceramic oil lamps and coins were something Trump cared about keeping, like classified documents. But the story of how the Israeli artifacts got to Mar-a-Lago, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, is both predictable if you’ve observed Trump over the years, and incredibly weird by any standards but Trumpian ones.
The artifacts were originally supposed to be displayed at the White House over Hanukkah 2019, but didn’t make it there in time. So Saul Fox, the big donor (to both Republicans and the Israeli antiquities authority) who facilitated the loan, hired a courier to bring them to his house and then “sort of forgot about it,” like you do when possessing national treasures that missed their chance for display at the White House. Then came COVID-19, and the 2020 election, and they were still forgotten at Fox’s house.
Fox seems to have suddenly remembered that he had the antiquities in late 2021, when he was invited to have dinner at Mar-a-Lago around Hanukkah. He contacted Israel Hasson, who had been the head of the Israeli antiquities authority at the time of the initial loan but was no longer in that role. Hasson connected Fox with the current head of the antiquities authority, and some agreement was reached—according to what Fox told the Journal—for him to bring them to Mar-a-Lago on loan. Except …
Fox said he was sitting in the Mar-a-Lago lobby when he got an email from Eskosido: “He said there’s been some kind of miscommunication. You have to bring these back immediately to Israel.” Fox asked his girlfriend, who works in tech, whether anyone would know if he read the email. Yes, she said, but he decided to go forward.
“This permanent exhibition of Israel’s national treasures outside of the State of Israel in your honor is without precedent,” he told Trump. Fox in the interview said the agreement never came with a return date for the items. They weren’t Trump’s, but he effectively would act as their custodian, Fox said.
A couple months later, he said, he got a call from a man in the U.S. who reiterated that Israel wanted the items back. Fox said it was offensive to do so. “This was something that was promised and done and I acted on it in good faith,” Fox said.
Basically Fox was so committed to his big, splashy suck-up to Trump that he told him Mar-a-Lago would be home to a “permanent exhibition of Israel’s national treasures outside of the State of Israel in your honor” even though he knew that Israel wanted those treasures back immediately. But since they didn’t specify an exact return date, apparently “immediately” was too vague. And Israel’s request to return the antiquities that it always said were a temporary loan was somehow offensive.
This is a weird, confusing story, but the originating factor in all of this appears, by Fox’s own account, to have come from Fox’s nuclear-powered need to suck up to Trump. Trump doesn’t want ancient ceramic lamps. They aren’t made out of shiny gold. They were just an occasion for Fox to lavish praise on Trump for his position on Israel, and Trump does like praise and being told that he’s getting special stuff no one else has. Even though, by Fox’s account, Trump’s response was, “Well, how come I only got 25% of the Jewish vote?”
According to J Street, Trump only got 21%.