Former President Donald J. Trump will return a set of ancient coins and ceramic oil lamps to Israel’s government after reports last week that Israeli officials were pressing to retrieve them.
The items were not removed from the White House by Mr. Trump, like the classified documents that led to his indictment on federal espionage charges. They were not unaccounted for, like the official gifts from foreign leaders that were highlighted earlier this year by Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, who detailed ways in which the Trump White House had failed to follow the law in how it handled gifts.
In fact, the artifacts never made it to the White House at all.
Rather, they have been at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s home and private club in Palm Beach, Fla., since December 2021. That’s when Saul Fox, a wealthy donor to both Israel and the Republican Party, gave the items to him during a Hanukkah celebration, calling them an expression of Israel’s gratitude to Mr. Trump.
Mr. Fox, who runs a private equity firm, did not return repeated requests for comment. He told The Wall Street Journal that he had hoped to present the items to Mr. Trump at a White House Hanukkah party in 2019, and was given the approval to do so by Israel Hasson, the head of the Israeli Antiquities Authority at the time, but the State Department insisted on inspecting them first.
The delay forced Mr. Fox to send a courier to retrieve the ancient items, and then the pandemic set back his hopes of giving them to Mr. Trump, he told The Journal. So he kept them at his California home.
He finally got the lamps and coins to Mr. Trump at the Hanukkah party at Mar-a-Lago in 2021. Ahead of that visit, Mr. Fox wrote in an email reviewed by The Times that Mr. Hasson said that the new director of the antiquities authority, Eli Eskosido, had “whole-heartedly approved” giving the lamps to Mr. Trump for “permanent exhibition.” Mr. Eskosido did not respond to a request for comment.
The lamps were displayed at Mar-a-Lago in a case with a brass plaque showing the logo of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
A year and a half later, however, the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on July 18 that the lamps and coins were “stranded at Trump’s Florida estate” and that “senior Israeli figures have unsuccessfully tried to have them returned to Israel.”
In a statement, Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman, said the artifacts had been “on loan for permanent exhibition” at the behest of the Israel Antiquities Authority “to honor and celebrate American-Jewish heritage” and Mr. Trump’s close friendship with Israel.
“As the items were displayed as originally intended, the office will be expediting their return to the organization’s representative,” Mr. Cheung said.
The antiquities authority, for its part, said in a statement that it had “no claims against Mr. Donald Trump” and that Israeli and American officials were “working together to return the objects to their proper home.”
Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting.
Anjali Huynh covers politics for The Times. More about Anjali Huynh
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