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September 4, 2018 1:22 pm

US Lawmakers: Keep Iraqi Jewish Archive in America

avatar by Ariel Kahana / JNS.org

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A photo of Iraq’s former vibrant Jewish community that appeared in the “Remember Baghdad” documentary. Photo: Remember Baghdad.

JNS.orgThe White House is facing pressure to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive, which was seized following the capture of Baghdad in 2003, and not return it to Iraq.

Three members of Congress — Representatives Tom MacArthur (R, NJ), Daniel M. Donovan, Jr. (R, NY), and Yvette D. Clarke (D, NY) — recently wrote a letter to Donald Trump demanding that he prevent the documents from being returned to Iraq later this year.

“In 2003, in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s secret police headquarters, US forces in Iraq found a trove of Jewish artifacts,” the letter reads. “The US rescued these precious documents and brought them to the United States. … We strongly object to these documents being returned.”

The three lawmakers said that although they “respect the right of any nation to have its rightful cultural and historical artifacts returned to it. … In this case, the return of these treasures to the custody of the Iraqi government would be extremely inappropriate.”

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The authors propose that since Iraq “no longer has any Jewish community due to its own history of persecution,” it would be better to keep the archive in the United States, because it is “possible to return at least some of these artifacts to their original and rightful owners, many of whom fled to Israel and the United States, or their descendants.”

The group noted that the reason the archive was in the hands of the Iraqi dictator in the first place was Iraq’s “long history of oppressing its Jewish community.”

Moshe Shabbat, a scholar who studies the history of the Jews in Iraq, is one of people behind the efforts to keep the archive in Washington.

“The democratic regime in Iraq owes the Jews at least a billion dollars, and the archive is not worth more than 2 million dollars,” he said. “This, at the very least, should result in the US court giving the artifacts back to the Jews of Iraq.”

He said further that “the Jewish archive amounts to no more than one or two percent of the material seized by the Americans, even if you include the Baath Party archive, so why do they insist on having the Jewish archive returned, of all things?”

The letter is just the latest attempt to highlight this matter. A resolution recently introduced in the US Senate strongly recommends “that the United States renegotiate the return of the Iraqi Jewish Archive to Iraq.”

The resolution was introduced by Senators Pat Toomey (R, PA), Charles Schumer (D, NY), and Richard Blumenthal (D, CT), with Sen. Marco Rubio, (R, FL), as a co-sponsor. The American Jewish Congress has also lobbied the US government on the issue.

The archive comprises approximately 27,000 artifacts, some of which go back hundreds of years. The artifacts have since been digitized and restored. The State Department says that it is required to return the artifacts under bilateral agreements with Iraq, but it has recently said that it was looking into avenues of potentially keeping the trove in the United States.

Israel Hayom has learned that the Israeli government is currently not involved in the various efforts to keep the archive in the US. Sources say that progress has been made, although no decision has been announced.

Ariel Kahana is the diplomatic correspondent for Makor Rishon.

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