The Cultural Advisory Committee of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is the governing body responsible for signing MOU agreements. The committee will meet on October 29th – 30th, 2019 to review MOU requests from Yemen and Morocco. This means that public comment period is extremely short, and we need your help to these artifacts in Jewish hands as soon as possible.

The Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the U.S. Department of State has been signing Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) agreements with foreign governments that blockade the entry of cultural property to the USA and deny Jews and Christians from Arab countries the rights to their historic heritage. Through the MOU process, our government is transferring ownership of confiscated Jewish property to various Arab governments that expelled or forced their Jewish populations to flee antisemitic persecution under duress. Despite the protestations of Jewish communal organizations, including; ADL: The Anti-Defamation League, Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, B’nai Brith International, Simon Wiesenthal Center, World Jewish Congress of North America, and many others, MOU agreements have been signed with Algeria, Libya, Egypt and Syria.

Why is the proposed MOU agreement and the State Department process so problematic?

  • The State Department has accelerated the timeline for action to minimize the opportunity for the Jewish community and others to oppose this action. The call for public comment was made during the Jewish High Holidays.
  • MOUs with Arab governments are based on a flawed premise – that Jewish cultural property constitutes the national heritage of Arab countries. In fact, Jewish cultural property in Arab countries was expropriated from private homes, schools, and synagogues.
  • These MOUs claim to be about looting, but their broad scope and limited evidence of success suggests their real impact is providing a legal vehicle to legitimize foreign confiscations and wrongful ownership claims of confiscated Jewish property. Legitimate efforts to curb looting are essential, but they must be targeted to preserve archaeological resources, and not to disguise the brazen cultural property confiscations of Jewish and Christian communities throughout the region.
  • The proposed MOUs would legitimize Arab government’s confiscation of Jewish Communal Property. A Red List from Yemen outlines the cultural property the government seeks to take ownership of and it includes Torah scrolls.
  • If you are former Jewish refugee from an Arab country, or the descendant of one you are encouraged to speak from a compelling, emotional place and share your family story and perspective. What did you or your family leave behind? What does it mean to you that a government who failed to protect your rights is now laying claim to your property?

To submit written comments:

  • Use regulations.gov, enter docket DOS-2019-0031, and follow the prompts to submit written comments. Deadline to submit written comments is October 15th.

Contact your elected officials!

  • Find your elected officials HERE.
  • Contact Representative Eliot Engel, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
  • Write op eds, and share social media posts like this.

To participate in person:

  • Email culprop@state.gov by October 23, 2019 to request to be scheduled to participate in the open session. You must provide your name and organization. After you pre-register, you will be provided with instructions on how to participate.

Learn more about this issue from JIMENA here.