Suit says that the police investigation, lengthy trial and public denunciation by officials nearly dealt a death-blow to Deutsch’s academic career and caused the loss of millions of dollars in past and future business.
By Matthew Kalman
Foreign Correspondent In Jerusalem
Nearly two years after the spectacular collapse of the Jerusalem archaeology forgery trial and his sweeping acquittal on all charges, Robert Deutsch, proprietor of the Archaeological Center in Old Jaffa, has filed suit demanding more than $3 million in damages from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Jerusalem District Attorney and individual officials behind the 10-year prosecution. Deutsch, one of the most prominent antiquities dealers in Israel, was acquitted in March 2012 on all six charges against him after being accused of “forgery with the intention of aggravated fraud” of various artifacts together with Tel Aviv antiquities collector Oded Golan and others.
Deutsch filed suit on 28 November in the Tel Aviv District Court against the Israel Antiquities Authority, its director Shuka Dorfman, the head of its anti-theft unit Amir Ganor, the Jerusalem District Attorney and Assistant District Attorney Dan Bahat who led the prosecution. He is seeking 12 million shekels ($3.4 million) in damages – an astronomical sum for Israel. In an interview, Deutsch said the multi-million-dollar damages demanded were “a drop in the ocean” compared to the wreckage wrought to his reputation and business by the affair. Deutsch was never accused of any involvement with the alleged forgery of either the James Ossuary or Jehoash Tablet, but when those items propelled the sprawling, 18-count indictment sheet into the headlines, as the main co-defendant his name was yoked to the allegations against Golan.
In the verdict delivered in March 2012 and upheld by Israel’s High Court earlier this year, Golan was also acquitted on all counts of forgery while charges against two other defendants were dropped halfway through the trial. Golan and a fifth defendant were convicted on three minor charges of mishandling genuine antiquities. In his verdict, the trial judge, Aharon Farkash, described Deutsch as “an honest and decent businessman, professional and experienced, who has advised many people without demanding any financial return.”
Tel Aviv District Court Civil Case No. 56700-11-13, Deutsch vs The State of Israel - Israel Antiquities Authority, filed on November 28, charges the Antiquities Authority, Public Prosecutor and the named defendants with slandering Deutsch through false accusations, damaging his health, and destroying his professional and academic reputation by pursuing a prosecution based on charges that were demonstrably false. The 34-page suit says that the police investigation, lengthy trial and public denunciation by officials nearly dealt a death-blow to Deutsch’s academic career and caused the loss of millions of dollars in past and future business.
The suit alleges that the prosecution, against the advice of the police, decided to indict Deutsch after leading him to believe that he was to be called as a witness. Deutsch says he co-operated fully with the initial inquiry, allowing IAA and police investigators unfettered access to his home and business computers, financial records and phones. “The IAA had made it clear that they wished the plaintiff to testify as an expert witness in the proceedings against Mr. Golan, in respect to the suspected forgeries they found in his possession,” says the suit.
Deutsch says he was blindsided by the decision to transform him from witness to co-defendant. The shock was exacerbated by the authorities’ decision to leak news of his indictment to a journalist who contacted him for comment 24 hours before the charges were finally faxed to Deutsch himself. The suit says that the IAA and Jerusalem District Attorney’s office acted without “good faith,” treated Deutsch with “contempt and levity” and committed “a gross and intentional breach of the duty of care” towards him as officers of the court. According to the suit, the IAA and District Attorney acted with “gross negligence and malice” by pursuing the prosecution despite the overwhelming evidence of Deutsch’s innocence.
“The prosecution and its investigators broke the law, flouting the regulations which require due and just process prior to serving an indictment,” says the suit. “From the text of the indictment it seems clear that the prosecutor committed gross negligence, the indictment being written in an ambiguous and confused manner, without any concerted or clear relation to specific events and occurrences, and without proof of the basic facts in relation to the specific charges.”
In addition to the humiliation and suffering of a decade of suspicion and criminal prosecution, Deutsch says the case cost him a fortune in legal payments and lost business. Deutsch estimates his legal and other costs at more than $800,000 to date, and says he lost more than $1 million in revenue when many buyers and suppliers abandoned him after he was formally indicted in December 2004. “I lost a third of my business,” says Deutsch. “I’m not judging my clients because they don’t know what’s true. I am on trial for faking and they don’t want to buy from a faker if I am.”
Deutsch is even more bitter about the loss of his academic reputation. He was expelled and fired from Haifa University, where he was a doctoral candidate and had taught epigraphy and ancient inscriptions for seven years. He was also dropped from the Megiddo excavations where he was an area supervisor and had published scholarly material jointly with dig director Israel Finkelstein. Haifa University refused to re-instate him, saying his position had been filled by someone else. He was allowed to re-join the Megiddo dig as a lowly volunteer, given the dirtiest, most unskilled work and told there was no accommodation available. He quit after a few days. He submitted another Ph.D. dissertation to Tel Aviv University in 2009 but it was not awarded until this year, after the verdict. Students who started out with him are now professors. Even after his acquittal, scholarly journals that once published his material now shun him.
“I can never restore my name,” he says. “My name was killed in the academy. I have published 12 books and others in Hebrew. Nobody is quoting my books any more. They don’t want to do anything with my name. Only if it’s absolutely necessary, then they quote it.”
With a sigh, he recalls bumping into a former fellow student in the library at Tel Aviv University with whom relations had been fine. “Everyone knows you are a faker, but you had a good lawyer, so you emerged unscathed,” Deutsch recalls him saying.
“How much is this damage worth?” he asks.
The not guilty verdict had an immediate impact on his business. Turnover at his twice-yearly auctions in Tel Aviv leapt immediately by 30%. For all those customers who deserted him, there were more who stayed, including David Jeselsohn, the prominent Zurich-based collector. In an uncharacteristically outspoken speech delivered at Deutsch’s first auction following the trial, Jeselsohn described the accusations against him as “slander” and accused the IAA of acting “imprudently, senselessly, foolishly and regrettably, with malice.” Jeselsohn called on the IAA to “express its sincere apologies and reimburse him for the damages he suffered as well as draw the consequences for the future.” Failing that, Jeselsohn called for “the directorate of the IAA to be replaced as soon as possible.”
But apologies were apparently far from the minds of the IAA officials, who continued their pursuit of Deutsch even after the acquittal. Earlier this year, Deutsch was invited to participate in a television documentary about the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the IAA refused to allow him into the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum to examine them. In a message dated April 10, 2013 to the producer of the programme, IAA spokesperson Yoli Schwartz wrote: “Permission is denied for Robert Deutsch to enter the scrolls laboratory. The instructions of the IAA director are quite clear on this issue.” No reason was given.
Deutsch is convinced that the real purpose of the trial was not to prove forgery but to shut down the legal trade in antiquities by linking his licensed and regulated business activities to the crimes of forgery and grave-robbing. He points to repeated attempts by the IAA to shut down the legal antiquities trade, which came to a head at a meeting of the Knesset Education Committee 15 years ago when the IAA proposals were rejected. In a bizarre statement issued immediately after the not guilty verdicts in March 2012, the IAA declared that “the benefits of placing the issue on today’s agenda were immense” and vowed to “continue in its battle against the robbers and forgers of antiquities” – despite their spectacular failure to prove that any of the five defendants were either “robbers” or “forgers.”
Deutsch says he is not the biggest of the 50 or so antiquities dealers licensed by the IAA, but his shops in Jaffa and the Dan and Hilton hotels in Tel Aviv, in addition to his regular public auctions, have made him perhaps the most prominent. He believes he was seen as a greater threat because he had also “infiltrated” academia.
“They told me to my face: Because you are making too much noise with your auctions, you are the biggest, you are the most knowledgeable, and we will close your stall,” says Deutsch, who led the dealers’ lobby during the Knesset committee debate. “The IAA didn’t succeed then to close the trade but since then they have been trying everything to push us to the wall. They make new regulations every year.”
“If they kill me, they will kill half the trade in Israel and they told me that to my face. I am not the biggest, but I am knowledgeable, I make public auctions, I make a lot of publicity. This is a problem for them, that a dealer also penetrated the academy.”
Invited to reply to the accusations in Deutsch’s lawsuit, neither the Israel Antiquities Authority nor the Israeli Ministry of Justice responded to requests for comment.
The IAA must not be allowed to destroy the legal right to own and trade in antiquities.
As in ALL liberal democratic, countries, this right is part and parcel of our civil rights.
#1 - Joseph Baruch Silver - 12/02/2013 - 15:08
The Three million Dollars damages, that Robert Deutsch is claiming, seems far too modest in relation to all the loss of reputaion, loss of business and not least of all the mental strain and humiliation he has had to endure for so many years. Many people of weaker character would have had a breakdown under such a pressure. He is a shining beacon as a fighter for the rights and freedom of individuals to collect antiquities in a legitimate way. I have known Robert Deutsch for 30 years and recognised him as a man of absolute integrity and a man who loathed even the thought of fakes. He has done more than anybody I know to stimulate interest in the archaeology and antiquities of Israel. Raising the publics awareness and enthusiasm for the subject is in itself a guarantee that it will continue to be of importance to the poeople of Israel. Nobody has done more to advance the knowledge and interpretation of the archaeolgy and antiquities of ancient Israel. His academic contribution has been truly invaluable and for the Israel acadmic and archaeological World to now be denied his further brilliant contribution,because of some spiteful and jealous behavious or officials, is a crime not only against him but the whole World of archaeology.
#2 - David Giles - 12/02/2013 - 15:11
"Farkash, described Deutsch... “...advised many people without demanding any financial return.”" I am one of them.
#3 - G.M. Grena - 12/02/2013 - 15:43
Wish you lots of success in the suit you started. Even from a distance it was quite clear that there were many holes in the earlier process.
We also celebrated the acquittal. We always believed in you and will always do that.
As a regular customer on roman glass we knew and know that we are dealing with one of the leading experts in this field.
Lots of success in this new step.
#4 - Theo Zandbergen - 12/02/2013 - 15:44
You've been terribly wronged, your good name maligned, and they owe you big time. Best of luck.
#5 - William Baker - 12/02/2013 - 17:55
Judge Farkash has a perfect description about him. I am one of who has been advised by Mr. Deutsch for years, without demanding any financial return.
The knowledge I've picked up during that time is unpayable.
Tank you Robert!
#6 - Gyula Kelemen - 12/02/2013 - 18:15
I met Robert recently and completely by chance during our family vacation to Israel. I had bought a "Roman Artifact" from a dealer in Jerusalem which after purchase I started to doubt the authenticity. When I brought the item to him to look at, he was VERY kind and professional and confirmed my suspicions that the item was in fact perhaps 100 years old, not 2000 years old.
When I went back to the dealer I had bought the item from and told him who had told me it was not authentic, the dealer immediately accepted the judgment and I was able to work out a refund (though painful and it took a while for me to get my money back).
I should mention that even though I had offered to pay, Robert refused payment and performed his analysis for for free. Hard to believe that a man of his caliber and integrity would be targeted for such a hateful and disgusting response. Having experienced buying a fake item first-hand, I can say there are MANY more dealers that the IAA should go after. If anything, honest and reputable dealers like Robert should be heralded as the finest example of what a dealer should be. He should have been treated as a resource, not the enemy.
Shame, shame on the IAA, prosecutors and anyone else with their sick agenda.
Personally, I would have added a zero on the damages.
#7 - Mendy Ouzillou - 12/02/2013 - 18:43
Don Quixote of the industry,
You showed that the spirit can break the rock...
I hope we had many more of you around.
from a customer who never abandoned
#8 - Roy Saar - 12/02/2013 - 19:59
Dear Mr. Kalman, Hi!!! Thank you for reporting this like you usually do so well. I am happy to see that Dr. Deutsch has started his legal process. This looks like a good beginning. Do you know if he plans on suing for libel those individuals on the Internet who constantly accused him of being a forger?
Thank you for everything that you do. With Much Gratitude and Admiration, Sincerely Yours, Michael Welch, Deltona, Florida
#9 - Michael Welch - 12/02/2013 - 20:30
I have known Robert Deutsch for over twenty years. He is an honourable man who has done much to make archaeology and its link to biblical study an area of interest for many people around the world. The slander against him by the Israeli authorities is all the more incredulous to those who know Robert and have had dealings with him because we know that it is inconceivable that he would do anything that could remotely bring discredit on the profession that is the core of his being, archaeology. The courts will decide the merits of Robert’s claim but it is clear to this writer that no sum could ever come close to ameliorating the wrong that has been wrought against him.
#10 - Julian Sorsby (U.K). - 12/02/2013 - 21:06
I have had the honor of knowing Robert for more than 20 years. He has been a valued teacher and advisor, from whom I have learned much. They say "Tov shaim mi shemen tov"--Better a good name than the finest oil. The damage to his reputation, and indeed his business and the shameful way he has been treated should not go unpunished.
#11 - Jared Gerstein - 12/03/2013 - 07:00
Would anyone like to comment on the anonymous ad Deutsch took out in BAR trashing Yuval Goren? Let's hear from his defenders on that one.
#12 - Ramon Castro - 12/03/2013 - 16:29
Dear Mr. Castro, Hi!!! Professor Goren using a backhoe was not a logical archaeological use. I personally do not think he will find any LMLK workshops at Tel Socoh because there are too many royal officials names stamped on the LMLK jars, so they were more than likely all produced from Shephelah clay dug up and taken to Jerusalem. Professor Goren said some pretty libelous things against Dr. Deutsch. For instance:
"Yuval Goren said...
With tongue in cheek, I would recommend for the forensic department of the Israeli police to check whether the fingerprint on the bulla, so nicely seen in BAR, could possibly match the famous biblical official, or rather, does it match the fingerprint of a less known but still living gentleman from Tel Aviv? Or, say, does it match the fingerprint of some yellow journalist from Washington DC? But the last option may require the help of the Interpol…
1/05/2005 02:26:00 PM" This is from Dr. Edward M. Cook's
Ralph the Sacred River blog of Wednesday, January 05, 2005, entitled "Stamp Seals and Provenance." Sincerely Yours, Michael Welch, Deltona, Florida
#13 - Michael Welch - 12/04/2013 - 01:51
I wish you also very much success. I have known you since many years and have worked with you not only through fruitful discussions but also as a co-author and I can only confirm that you are a good friend, colleague and scholar. My very best wishes
#14 - Pieter Gert van der Veen - 12/04/2013 - 08:33
I would like to applaud the bravery, devotion and fairness of Matthew Kalman, the author of this article. Kalman was the only correspondent who attended nearly all 120 sessions during the nine year trial (2005-2013). He demonstrated a commitment to fair and impartial reporting of this important issue impacting the fields of Bible and archaeology. I believe he should be nominated for an international journalism prize.
Robert Deutsch demonstrated a dignified demeanor against a number of powerful Israeli governmental institutions during this entire ordeal, earning the respect of many who witnessed the trial. I would like to wish him success in his compensation law suit.
Last but not least, I would like to remind all people from Tel Aviv University (Archaeology Department) and from the Geological Survey of Israel who contributed to the pseudo-scientific evidence for the trial, you cost the Israeli taxpayers millions of shekels.
Dr. Amnon Rosenfeld, Jerusalem Israel.
#15 - Amnon Rosenfeld - 12/04/2013 - 21:06
Honored to have my tax money go to Deutsch. Shame that IAA and the police involved aren't tarred and feathered for their mistreatment of Deutsch and spending of shekels on their witch hunt.
#16 - Eliyahu Konn - 12/07/2013 - 11:17
Dr. Robert Deutsch is the victim of a misguided, malicious and kafkaesque witch hunt. A lesser man would have caved in long ago but, luckily, Deutsch is made of sterner stuff. The IAA’s intention was to bring legal commerce in antiquities in Israel to an end by eliminating a major player in the field. Whether this is a legitimate objective or not is not the issue at hand. The issue at hand is the fact that the IAA chose a scapegoat and concocted a slovenly scenario in order to do him in. At public cost, they persevered in their relentless persecution of this person without regard to mounting evidence that they had no case. The state has no right to carry on in this manner, and its officers, when they have so consistently and arbitrarily stepped out of line, should be made to pay for their actions. It is important that he wins this case for us, the citizens of Israel, and our liberties.
#17 - Ori Brenner - 12/07/2013 - 21:25
Just after three years into the proceedings, in October, 2008, the honorable Judge Farkash asked the prosecutors whether the trial should continue. "Have you really proved beyond a reasonable doubt that these artifacts are fakes as charged in the indictment? The experts disagreed among themselves," Judge Farkash hinted that things are not seen exactly as in the beginning. He actually asked the prosecutors to reconsider the withdrawn of this case in order to save time and money. But the trial continued till 2013.
#18 - Amnon Rosenfeld - 12/07/2013 - 22:13
I have known Robert for nearly thirty years and never doubted his integrity and honesty.
A lesser man would have crumbled due to an unfounded witch hunt by the IAA. Knowing Robert I am sure his academic reputation was more important to him than any financial loss.
I hope he is awarded every penny as he deserves it plus more.
#19 - David Richman - 12/10/2013 - 17:31
If ever a case cried out for justice, it's this one. Those who participated in the shameful witch hunt against Robert Deutsch should at the very least lose their jobs and be fined heavily for their part in it. Dr. Deutsch should be awarded at least double what he's asking.
#20 - Wayne Brown - 12/17/2013 - 21:37
There is a saying involving a bee in a bonnet. It is so sad when the authorities pursue a buzzing idea even when it is obvious to observers that either there is no evidence, or their true motive is so well known. If they removed the hat of self deceit then the bee would fly away.
#21 - Ian Montgomery - 02/07/2016 - 14:50
Finally, after over 4 years, the concluding court session took place last week. The Tel-Aviv District Court judge established a limit of 60 days for us to hand over our summaries, after which the defenders (represented by the Israel Authorities) have also 60 days to present their answer, after which we have yet another 10 days to reply to the defenders answer. This means that there is a very good chance that the court decision will be given before the end of this year.
#22 - Robert Deutsch - 05/06/2018 - 18:01