Help Ensure Archives Are Returned to Descendants of Iraqi Jewish Community

By Gordon Haas

 

As my blog post I would like to call your attention to a very important issue. The following action alert was issued today from Jewish Federations of North America. Please act today.

 

Currently on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., is a magnificent display of historic communal and religious items that once belonged to the Iraqi Jewish community. These artifacts, discovered in a decrepit state by U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq in 2003, were rescued and brought to the United States for repair and preservation. The archive includes a rare Bible from 1568, Torah scrolls seized from synagogues, and personal and community documents and records. For more information on the discovery of these artifacts, please read this Washington Post article from August 13.

 

Under an agreement made between the U.S. interim administration and the Iraqi government in 2003, these items are scheduled to return to Iraq in the spring of 2014. However, as these artifacts rightfully belong to the Iraqi Jewish community and their descendants, we are working with Congressional leaders to stop their return to Iraq.

 

Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) are asking their colleagues in the House of Representatives to sign a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry (see below) urging him to facilitate the return of these items to descendants of the Iraqi Jewish community. The deadline for Members of Congress to sign onto this letter is COB this Thursday, October 31st.

 

• Please contact your Member of Congress today and urge them to sign this important letter.

 

 

 

• Please add your name to a petition urging the U.S. Government not to return the archives to Iraq.

 

Action Steps

A. Enter your zip code on the top right of the following website to locate the name and phone number of your representative: http://www.house.gov

 

B. Call your Representative’s office and ask them to please sign the Israel/Ros-Lehtinen letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to return the Iraqi Jewish Archives to descendants of the Iraqi Jewish community.

 

Key talking points:

 

  • Currently on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., is a magnificent display of historic communal and religious items that once belonged to the Iraqi Jewish community.
  • The Jewish community in Iraq is virtually extinct. Jews of Iraqi origin and their descendants now live outside Iraq — in Israel and the West. When there were Jews in Iraq, the modern Iraqi state showed only contempt for them and their heritage.
  • These artifacts, discovered by U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq in 2003, were rescued and brought to the United States for repair and preservation.
  • The memorandum drawn up between the U.S. CPA interim government and Iraq in 2003, stating the artifacts would be returned to Iraq, was signed on a flawed premise: that the archive is part of Iraq's national heritage.
  • Iraq does not have the resources to conserve and store the archive safely, and according to Jewish law, sacred objects such as Torah scrolls must be entrusted to a living Jewish community.
  • I hope you will sign the Israel/Ros-Lehtinen letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to facilitate the return of these items to descendants of the Iraqi Jewish community. The deadline to sign this letter is COB this Thursday, October 31st.
  • To sign on or for more information, please contact Jessica Schwartz with Rep. Israel at 5-3335 or Golan Rodgers with Rep. Ros-Lehtinen at 5-3931.

 

C. Sign this petition urging the U.S. Government not to return the Iraqi Jewish Archives to Iraq.

 

Letter from Congress to Secretary Kerry

Dear Secretary Kerry:

 

As Members of the United States Congress who are committed to ensuring justice for victims of ethnic and religious persecution, we are writing to express our concern regarding the return of a collection of restored Jewish communal and religious items by the United States Government to the Government of Iraq.

 

The Jewish community in Iraq has roots that date back thousands of years. Once the epicenter of Jewish cultural, religious and scholastic life, Baghdad is now estimated to have a Jewish population in the single digits. As the rise of the Nazis began in Germany, a rampant hatred for Jews became more prevalent in Iraq. The Iraqi Jewish community faced increasing harassment, persecution, and pogroms that left hundreds dead, eventually forcing the majority to flee the anti-Semitic policies of the Iraqi government.

 

When the Jewish people were forced to uproot their centuries-old community, they left behind their sacred treasures in the last remaining Jewish temple in Baghdad for safe keeping. Then in the 1980’s, Saddam Hussein ordered his men to confiscate almost all of their possessions. Many communal, religious, and even personal items ended up warehoused in the basement of the Mukhabarat secret police headquarters, with no regard paid to their condition. Ancient texts, letters, books, and even personal photos were left to slowly disintegrate. It was not until U.S. and coalition forces entered Baghdad in 2003 that this cultural treasure trove was rediscovered. This set in motion a rescue operation that would eventually lead to these items finally being cared for in a professional and respectful manner here in the United States.

 

The State Department, along with the National Archives, has worked diligently to preserve these artifacts and to allow the public to get a glimpse of the rich life that was once the Iraqi Jewish community. However, we understand that the United States Government entered into an agreement with the Government of Iraq to send these looted items back to Iraq rather than to the Iraqi Jews to whom they rightfully belong.

 

The Government of Iraq has no legitimate claim to these artifacts. We firmly believe that these items should be returned to the descendants of the Iraqi Jewish community, who still mourn the loss of these priceless reminders of their former lives in Iraq. Therefore we urge the Department of State to facilitate the return of these items to their rightful owners or their descendants, and not to the Government of Iraq. We are committed to ensuring justice for the Iraqi Jewish community and their descendants and to seeing that these important artifacts that were confiscated from them are rightfully returned to their community. We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

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