Israel’s premier museum for Islamic art has scrapped the planned auction of scores of rare and precious items after public outcry over the attempted sale, which had been expected to fetch millions of dollars from wealthy private collectors.
In a settlement announced Wednesday by the museum, Sotheby’s and the Qatari Al Thani Collection Foundation, the Sotheby’s auction house would return items from the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem currently in London back to Israel immediately.
The Al Thani Collection, an art foundation linked to the ruling family of the energy-rich Gulf Arab state of Qatar, “will generously provide an annual sponsorship to the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art” during a 10-year period, while one of the Islamic Art Museum’s pieces will be given on long-term loan to the Al Thani Collection’s gallery at the Hotel de la Marine in Paris.
Nearly 270 items from the museum’s collection, including several centerpiece objects and prized antique watches, were slated for auction at Sotheby’s in October. News of the sale drew wide public criticism in Israel.
The Hermann de Stern Foundation, a Liechtenstein-based trust that funds the bulk of the museum’s budget, said the sale was aimed at covering the cost of maintaining the institution.
Israel and Qatar do not have formal diplomatic relations, but back-channel contacts exist to facilitate Qatar’s transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars in funds to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Sotheby’s said in a statement that it had facilitated the cooperation between the Islamic Art Museum and the Al Thani Collection.