Israel will no longer allow antiquities to cross its borders, a total ban on importing and exporting ancient objects, including coins. That is apparently how the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) had envisioned a new legal regulation. However, the story took a decisive turn.
Rumours and Facts
Curiously enough, until now the issue has only been spoken of as a rumour outside Israel. The American lawyer and cultural property expert Peter Tompa mentioned the IAA’s plans, referring to a hint from expert David Hendin. Hendin himself pointed out to CoinsWeekly that he, too, had only heard from others about the issue that Israel wanted to put an end to the export of antiquities. The export ban would even apply to objects that had been bought outside Israel and were resold later. Peter Tompa believed lobbyists behind these plans who wanted to strengthen the position of archaeology against the antiquities trade. And that is about everything that was known about the issue outside Israel.
Israel’s Problem with Antiquities
Like other countries, Israel – and an own department within the IAA – is fighting looters and the illegal trade in antiquities. CoinsWeekly repeatedly emphasized how important the on-site protection of cultural assets is.
Anyone who trades in antiquities in Israel (Israeli law defines an antiquity as any object dated before 1700) needs a license issued by the IAA. Yet time and again you can hear that the only way to protect the world’s cultural heritage is to ban the trade in antiquities altogether. For years, lobbyists have exaggerated the importance of the illegal trade in antiquities in order to obtain stricter regulations in various countries. However, to this day no attention has been paid to the fact that the illicit trade in antiquities only accounts for a negligible part of the market and by no means – as is repeatedly reported – finances international terrorism on a large scale.
Israel’s Ban on the Trade in Antiquities
CoinsWeekly has learned from well-informed sources in Israel that the country’s antiquities dealers actually received a letter in the summer of 2021 informing them that no more import or export licenses for antique objects would be issued as of 1 September 2021. A bit later, this letter was even sent to collectors. Even though this would not have banned the trade in antiquities and coins within Israel altogether, trade would have only been possible on a national level – which would have impacted the worldwide trade in ancient coins from Israel. The letter also invited readers to raise concerns.
And that’s what those affected by the measures did! Above all, the antiquities dealer Gideon Sasson from Jerusalem made an effort to form a coalition against this new regulation. Many other dealers and collectors had their lawyers submit written objections, and the new rule even received criticism from the world of museums. The protest extended to the highest ranks of the government. The result: Elie Escuzido, the new director of the IAA quietly buried the legislative initiative. Gideon Sasson received a phone call by Amir Ganor, the head of the IAA’s department for crime intelligence and prevention. Ganor confirmed in this conversation that, on Escuzido’s orders, no changes would be made to the current law.
However, the authorities do not appear to have talked publicly about this move any further. Apparently, neither the Israeli nor the international press covered the issue, and no official information was sent to other collectors and dealers.
Thus, a joint effort made by collectors, dealers and museums can go a long way. Numismatists in other countries should keep this in mind, too.
Here you can read more about the online petition for preserving the right to privately collect in Germany.
A thorough analysis of the antiquities trade as cultural bogeyman was provided by Ivan Macquisten.