ATADA's Response to Libyan Government's Claims to Jewish and Ethnic Tribal Heritage


On July 20, 2017, ATADA urged the Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the Department of State to reject the Libyan government's claim to Jewish and ethnic tribal heritage. A request to block all art and artifacts from Libya up to 1911 from entering the United States appears to be the next step in a movement to bar entry of all art from the Middle East to the US. The Libyan Request for a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) will limit access of all Libyan-Americans to their heritage, regardless of their religious or ethnic background, will prevent US museums from acquiring representative examples of Libya’s place in world art history, and is a slap in the face to Jewish citizens whose families were forced to leave Libya, abandoning all they had.

The Libyan request is extremely broad, covering the entire history of the geographic region that is Libyan territory from the Paleolithic through the Ottoman Era (12,000 B.C.-1750 A.D.). and on its ethnological material dating from 1551 to 1911 A.D. It covers everything from prehistoric tools to Classical antiquities of the Roman period to Islamic furniture, brassware and calligraphy to nomadic herdsmen’s baskets and cooking pots – and everything in between. The request is generic and expansive, rather than specific, as the statute, the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), requires.

The ethnographic materials also include all Tuareg and Berber items of material culture up to the year 1911, made from stone, metal, ceramic and clay, wood, bone and ivory, glass, textile, basketry and rope, leather and parchment, and writing.

In the attached 9-page response to the Libyan request, ATADA states that not a single criteria set by Congress is met in Libya’s request, whether in the case of Classical antiquities, which the Libyan government has said were not at risk of looting or destruction only a few months ago, in the ethnographic materials of the Tuareg, or in the artifacts remaining from Libya’s Jewish community, which was some 40,000 people in the early 20th century, but not a single Jew remains today.

NOTICE ON MAY 2017 AMENDMENTS TO BYLAWS / STOP Act Update

A number of questions regarding ATADA policies have been raised since the May 22, 2017 Santa Fe symposium, which included coverage of the ATADA Voluntary Returns program and the amended ATADA Bylaws, and presented ATADA’s legal response to the STOP Act. This note is to address some of those questions. We strongly encourage all members to review the changes to Articles X and XI in the ATADA Bylaws.

ATADA is a professional business organization and its primary interest is to protect the business interests of its members. ATADA remains fully committed to its original objectives, as stated on the Bylaws and Policies page of the ATADA website:

“…We support the lawful circulation, trade, collection, preservation, appreciation, and study of art and artifacts from diverse cultures. Our objectives are to promote ethical and professional conduct among art dealers, to encourage the responsible collecting, research, and study of tribal arts and culture, and to educate the public in the contribution of tribal cultures to the wealth of human experience.”

ATADA is following a multi-pronged path in order to effect positive change in the STOP Act and to increase understanding between tribes, legislators and the art trade. Along with the Voluntary Returns program and legislative input, recent amendments to the ATADA Bylaws have been enacted by the ATADA Board.

These amendments are intended to codify standard best business practices and to harmonize ATADA’s due diligence policies with those of other art trade organizations. In this, ATADA is in line with other professional art organizations in Europe and the US. Proper due diligence will protect ATADA members from false claims of poor organization, money laundering or dealing in stolen objects. These due diligence standards can be found under the Bylaws’ Article X – Trade Practices, Ethics, and Guarantees.

The Bylaws also establish ethical guidelines for ATADA members with respect to the sale of certain limited types of objects. Article X states that ATADA dealers will not deal in a very limited subset of objects that are “known to be of important current sacred, communal use to Native American tribal communities.” These terms do not include the word “ceremonial,” which is often too broadly applied. Objects ATADA has identified as inappropriate to sell are “Zuni war gods, Acoma and Laguna flat and cylinder dolls, Hopi ‘friends’, and Navajo masks,” “altar elements and items from shrines belonging to the community.” Sale of these items is already not allowed in many of the shows in which ATADA dealers sell.

Article X also states that, “ATADA does not regard items made for commercial or individual use by Native American artisans as sacred, or communal, regardless of age.” Defending this legal trade in Native American and other tribal objects is an essential task for ATADA, as a primary representative of the tribal art trade in the U.S. and internationally.


UPDATE ON THE 2017 STOP ACT

ATADA has not yet seen a text of the new 2017 STOP Act, although we are in discussions with some of the drafters of the coming legislation. We have already responded to a summary provided to us with what we believe is helpful criticism of some elements, and with praise for the removal of a number of harmful provisions and for its inclusion of a “voluntary returns” program. We are pleased that those involved in drafting the Act believe that a voluntary returns program such as ATADA has initiated will do more than any federal legislation to bring important objects back to tribes. ATADA would like to see a STOP Act that is constitutionally sound, does not jeopardize US citizens’ property rights, facilitates and strengthens sovereign tribal institutions and encourages tribes to enact their own laws.

ATADA’s own Voluntary Returns program continues to bring important objects back to tribes. To ATADA’s knowledge, every item returned through this program to tribes has been legally purchased and owned. All returns are voluntary. ATADA is working hard to obtain documentation from the tribes so that donors can receive an appropriate tax deduction for these gifts.

ATADA efforts, both legislatively and through the Voluntary Returns program, have been successful in raising public and Congressional consciousness of the importance of the lawful trade and of flaws in recent legislation, including the 2016 TAAR Act and the 2016 STOP Act.

 ATADA encourages members to send questions about ATADA’s policies and about the symposium to David Ezziddine at director@atada.org. When you write, please let us know if we may share your questions in a group answer via email to the membership.