Trial by Ordeal
Robert Deutsch to Sue IAA
Claims antiquities department ruined his name and reputation
By Hershel Shanks
“I will sue the IAA.” Robert Deutsch, a victorious defendant in the lawsuit brought by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the so-called “forgery trial of the century,” told Biblical Archaeology Review in an exclusive telephone interview. “I don’t want to talk with gloves on,” he added as he spoke passionately. Deutsch was declared not guilty on all charges.
“They tried to ruin my name and for that I will sue them for all of my expenses and all of my damages,” Deutsch said. Before the lawsuit, he had taught at Haifa University and had excavated at Megiddo. Not any more. He claimed his expenses in the lawsuit were more than 2.5 million shekels, or about $650,000.
“More than 120 witnesses tried very hard to connect me with forgeries—unsuccessfully because there is no connection. All they were trying to do was spoil my name…and they will pay for that.”
Deutsch said that the real reason the IAA went after him is because he is both a scholar and an antiquities dealer. “They told me several times during the investigation that I ‘denigrated the academy’ because I am an antiquities dealer.” He emphasized that he is licensed by the IAA. “I received my license from them and somehow that makes me a criminal. They told me several times that they wanted to close my business, most importantly, because I am both a scholar and a dealer. I had the chutzpah to write books despite being a dealer. To them it is a crime for a dealer to write books.”
It is widely assumed that the IAA would like to put all antiquities dealers out of business.
“For all of these things, they will pay,” Deutsch continued. “They are the real criminals here, ruining a scholar’s name and reputation. ...”
As was the case in Marion True's lengthy ordeal in an Italian court, defendant Robert Deutsch has come through a grindingly traumatic legal process to be adjudged as being free to go about his business. But what is that business now?
A defendant in such a case faces enormous legal costs, being unavailable to operate his business much of the time over long periods, and incalculable damage to his good name and professional reputation. A verdict of "Not Guilty" cannot in any way undo such terrible and unfair economic and personal consequences.
This raises a very troubling question: Is this justice? Or does being required to stand trial on such charges [for all practical purposes] inevitably result in ruin that is not much less than the consequences of being found guilty?
Whether Deutsch can prevail in his suit and recover a monetary award remains to be seen. He is a tragic figure, and the ordeal he has suffered through can never be undone. It is hard to visualize how any amount of money could possibly compensate for that ordeal, and the damage inflicted upon his business and reputation.
One approach to rectifying that inequity would be to develop a more equitable legal framework, which if the prosecution's case were not adjudged to be convincing enough to justify the defendant's ordeal, result in punitive damages sufficient to give governments qualms about entering into such proceedings.