At least one influential member of government is pushing to have the United States renege on its agreement to return valuable Jewish documents to the Iraqi government.
In a personal meeting Friday, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged Secretary of State John Kerry not to return the Iraqi Jewish Archives to Iraq and to work with the Iraqi Jewish Community to find an alternate permanent location for the artifacts, his office said in a statement.
In 2003, American soldiers found the 2,700 items of the Iraqi Judaica collection in a flooded Baghdad Intelligence Center.
The items were seized by Saddam Hussein in 1984 from a Baghdad synagogue. The collection was placed there by Iraqi Jews during their mass exodus from the country in the early 1950s. Between 1950 and 1952, more than 130,000 Jews left Iraq and were not allowed to carry more than one suitcase each.
The U.S. agreed to return the collection, currently being featured in the “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage” exhibit at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, to Iraq in 2014.
Schumer wrote to the State Department last week asking that the agency not return the items to Iraq because they were stolen, but the State Department rejected the request.
“The Iraqi Jewish Archive belongs to the Iraqi Jewish community that was exiled many years ago and should not be returned to the current government of Iraq,” Schumer said. “Because these very sacred, ancient artifacts were stolen by the Iraqi government, the State Department should make sure they are returned to the Iraqi Jewish people and maintained in an appropriate manner that allows for their preservation and access by those to who this material belongs. Today, I am strongly urging Secretary of State Kerry to work with the Iraqi Jewish Community and organizations that represent the community to find an alternate location for this collection.”