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Smithsonian Institution Cancels Israeli Archaeological Exhibition

The Smithsonian Institution has cancelled an Israeli archaeological exhibition scheduled to open next May after the Israeli government asked to be released from the undertaking. The Israelis objected because the Smithsonian decided to exclude II items from the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem on grounds that their ownership is in dispute.

The museum, which the Israeli government took over after the capture of East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, was established by the Rockefeller family in the 1920s and was privately owned until 1948 when it was nationalized by Jordan. Danny Kyram, a spokesman for the Israel Embassy here, said the Smithsonian was believed to have come under pressure from Arab and other sources which do not recognize Israel’s sovereignty in East Jerusalem, but said he had no first hand knowledge of such pressure.

Kennedy Schmertz, director of the Smithsonian’s office of international activities, denied there was any pressure. He said the II items were excluded in order to preserve the Institution’s neutrality in the ownership dispute. He did not describe the items but said they were not essential to the exhibit. Kyram insisted they were.

The exhibition was to have run from May 4 July 15 at the Smithsonian and then to have toured American cities until 1986. The tour also has been cancelled. The episode is the second of its kind involving a major American museum.

Two years ago, the Metropolitan Museum in New York cancelled an Israeli archaeological exhibit because it refused to display under Israeli aegis, items from the West Bank which is disputed territory. The Metropolitan also said at the time that the exhibit would have created security problems for the museum.

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