Congressman Joe Wilson Demands Investigation into State Department’s Cultural Policy Missteps

Old Sana'a, Yemen, photo by Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia, 8 November 2013, CCA-SA 2.0 Generic license.

Aden (Yemen) Jewish refugees, 12 May 1950 until 28 May 1950, National Library of Israel, credit Benno Rothenberg /Meitar Collection / National Library of Israel / The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, CC BY 4.0.

Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has sent a strongly worded letter to the State Department’s Acting Inspector General, requesting an investigation into the State Department’s decision to convert the “emergency” import restrictions on cultural goods for Yemen into a bilateral U.S.-Yemen agreement without a proper Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) review or public comment, as is required by the Cultural Property Implementation Act of 1983 (CPIA).

This is just the first of two successful steps taken by Global Heritage Alliance (GHA), to bring the State Department’s administration of U.S. cultural policy in line with Congressional intent and to follow the terms of the CPIA.

Ethnic minority and religious groups, including from the Jewish diaspora, as well as collector groups, with whom GHA closely collaborates, have expressed deep concerns about the MOU with Yemen and other agreements that grant unstable, repressive nations unquestioned legal ownership and control of minority people’s cultural heritage – even religious cultural heritage that the same nations fail to preserve or actively destroy.

The State Department’s current hyper-secret administration of the CPIA fails to provide information to the public on requests for import restrictions and fails to respond to the need for informed public comment. To that effect, the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) made a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request to obtain further information regarding this extra-legal Cultural Property MOU with Yemen.

Benayah ben Sa’adyah ben Zechariah. Yemen: 1469. Valmadonna Trust Library, MS 11.

According to GHA Executive Director Elias Gerasoulis:

“For years, the State Department and CPAC have made the process of approving and renewing Cultural Property MOUs into a rubber stamp process. However, now the State Department feels that it does not even need to pretend to follow the procedures and processes set forth in the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). Congress has a critical role in oversight, and making sure the State Department follows the law. The Global Heritage Alliance applauds Congressman Wilson for his efforts to hold the State Department accountable, and to have the Yemen Cultural Property MOU investigated.”

Second, GHA, in collaboration with the Ancient Coin Collector’s Guild (ACCG), a nonprofit organization working to ensure the lawful collecting and study of ancient coins by individuals, museums, and educational institutions, succeeded in inserting language into current appropriations legislation to hold the State Department to the reporting requirements set by Congress in the CPIA. This step also imposes transparency on a process that the Cultural Heritage Bureau at the State Department has fought to keep secret and helps to ensure that the “less drastic measures” favored by Congress are given full and honest consideration – rather than employing undeserved and unnecessary full embargoes.

Aden (Yemen) Photographs of Jewish refugees, Geulah Camp, photos
from 12 May 1950 until 28 May 1950, National Library of Israel, credit Benno Rothenberg /Meitar Collection / National Library of Israel / The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection / Israel State Archives / CC BY 4.0.

Download Congressman Joe Wilson’s Letter To the Department of State

Visit the Global Heritage Alliance website at or contact Elias Gerasoulis at for additional information.

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