Top Democratic Senator Urges State Department to Not Send Collection of Jewish Artifacts Back to Iraq
Top Democratic Senator Charles Schumer on Tuesday called on the State Department to “reconsider” the impending return of a collection of over 2,700 Jewish artifacts to Iraq.
The artifacts — which had been seized by the regime of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — were found by American troops in Baghdad in 2003 and brought to the US. The American government spent $3 million to preserve the collection, which has been displayed across the country.
The original deadline for the collection to be sent back to Iraq was in 2014, but that was extended in agreement with the Iraqi government.
Last month, the State Department said that the collection would be delivered back to Iraq in September 2018.
“Maintaining the archive outside of Iraq is possible, but would require a new agreement between the Government of Iraq and a temporary host institution or government,” State Department spokesman Pablo Rodriguez was quoted as saying by JTA at the time.
On Tuesday, Schumer — the Senate minority leader from New York — stated, “This collection does not belong to the Iraqi government, it belongs to the ancient and proud Iraqi Jewish community — many now here in the States — that was exiled many years ago and forced to leave their belongings behind.”
“It’s disheartening that parchments of a Torah scroll and prayer books were discovered in such poor condition inside a flooded Baghdad Intelligence Center,” he went on to say. “After the United States preserved this ancient collection, it makes no sense to return the items to the Iraqi government, where they will no longer be accessible to the Jewish community. Therefore, I am once again urging the State Department to do everything in their power to ensure that these treasured artifacts remain available and accessible to Jews worldwide.”
The collection is scheduled to be exhibited at the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore from Oct. 15 to Jan. 15.