When the news hit the headlines this week that the US plans to return Jewish artifacts to Iraq – artifacts, it should be noted, that were stolen from the Iraqi Jewish community by the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and rescued by US forces – I thought the story sounded familiar. A quick search on my blog revealed that this decision had already been discussed 4 years ago! To be honest, I thought that this absurd decision to return the artifacts to their unlawful owners had been shelved once Donald Trump became President. Sadly this is not the case.
The JTA reports:
NEW YORK (JTA) — The United States will return to Iraq next year a trove of Iraqi Jewish artifacts that lawmakers and Jewish groups have lobbied to keep in this country, a State Department official said.
A four-year extension to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the U.S. is set to expire in September 2018, as is funding for maintaining and transporting the items. The materials will then be sent back to Iraq, spokesman Pablo Rodriguez said in a statement sent to JTA on Thursday.
Rodriguez said the State Department “is keenly aware of the interest in the status” of the archive.
“Maintaining the archive outside of Iraq is possible,” he said, “but would require a new agreement between the Government of Iraq and a temporary host institution or government.”
The archive was brought to America in 2003 after being salvaged by U.S. troops. It contains tens of thousands of items including books, religious texts, photographs and personal documents. Under an agreement with the government of Iraq, the archive was to be sent back there, but in 2014 the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. said its stay had been extended. He did not say when the archive was to return.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers and Jewish groups have lobbied to renegotiate the deal, arguing that the documents should be kept in the U.S. or elsewhere where they are accessible to Iraqi Jews and their descendants. JTA reached out to lawmakers who have sponsored resolutions urging a renegotiation of the archive’s return but did not hear back in time for publication.
Iraq and proponents of returning the archive say it can serve as an educational tool for Iraqis about the history of Jews there and that it is part of the country’s patrimony.
Addressing the points that I highlighted above in bold, Caroline Glick scathingly attacks the “State Department’s strange obsession” while also answering the question in my headline:
The law of Occam’s Razor, refined to common parlance, is that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.
If we apply Occam’s Razor to recently reported positions of the US State Department, then we can conclude that the people making decisions at Foggy Bottom have “issues” with Jews and with Israel.
The books and documents were looted from the Iraqi Jewish community by successive Iraqi regimes. They were restored by the National Archives in Washington, DC.
The Iraqi Jewish community was one of the oldest exilic Jewish communities.
It began with the Babylonian exile following the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem 2,600 years ago. Until the early 20th century, it was one of the most accomplished Jewish communities in the world. Some of the most important yeshivas in Jewish history were in present-day Iraq. The Babylonian Talmud was written in Iraq. The Jewish community in Iraq predated the current people of Iraq by nearly a thousand years.
It was a huge community. In 1948, Jews were the largest minority in Baghdad.
Jews comprised a third of the population of Basra. The status of the community was imperiled during World War II, when the pro-Nazi junta of generals that seized control of the government in 1940 instigated the Farhud, a weeklong pogrom. 900 Jews were murdered.
Thousands of Jewish homes, schools and businesses were burned to the ground.
With Israel’s establishment, and later with the Baathist seizure of power in Iraq in the 1960s, the once great Jewish community was systematically destroyed.
Between 1948 and 1951, 130,000 Iraqi Jews, three quarters of the community, were forced to flee the country. Those who remained faced massive persecution, imprisonment, torture, execution and expulsion in the succeeding decades.
When US forces overthrew the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, only a dozen or so remained in the country.
Today, there are none left.
As for the current Iraqi government that the State Department wishes to support by implementing its 2014 agreement, it is an Iranian satrapy. Its leadership and military receive operational orders from Iran.
The Iraqi Jewish archive was not created by the Iraqi government. It is comprised of property looted from persecuted and fleeing Jews. In light of this, it ought to be clear to the State Department that the Iraqi government’s claim to ownership is no stronger than the German government’s claim to ownership of looted Jewish property seized by the Nazis would be.
On the other hand, members of the former Jewish community and their descendants have an incontrovertible claim to them. And they have made this claim, repeatedly.
To no avail. As far as the State Department is concerned, they have no claim to sacred books and documents illegally seized from them.
When asked how the US could guarantee that the archive would be properly cared for in Iraq, all State Department spokesman Pablo Rodriguez said was, “When the IJA [Iraqi Jewish archive] is returned, the State Department will urge the Iraqi government to take the proper steps necessary to preserve the archive, and make it available to members of the public to enjoy.”
It is hard not to be taken aback by the callousness of Rodriguez’s statement.
Again, the “members of the public” who wish to “enjoy” the archive are not living in Iraq. They are not living in Iraq because they were forced to run for their lives – after surrendering their communal archives to their persecutors. And still today, as Jews, they will be unable to visit the archives in Iraq without risking their lives because today, at a minimum, the Iraqi regime kowtows to forces that openly seek the annihilation of the Jewish People.
And the State Department knows this.
The question then arises, surely this new American administration under President Donald Trump would be more sympathetic to Jewish concerns, and would overturn this surreal decision made by the Obama administration?
Apparently it’s not so clear-cut. It appears that Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly has been blocking most conservative news sites from reaching Trump, thus limiting his awareness of what is happening outside of his immediate circle (h/t Dan Miller in Panama).
Daniel Greenfield reiterates his call to the President – which he made in 2013 to Barack Obama (and which I quoted in my blog post at the time) – and demands that Trump should block Obama’s move to return these stolen artifacts to Iraq: (emphases are added):
… The archive doesn’t belong to the Iraqi government, but to the Jewish population that was ethnically cleansed from Iraq.
The United States recovered the archive and should have turned it over to the Jewish community. Instead we had a bizarre Kafkaesque process in which the archive was restored to be turned over to the thieves who stole it.
Jewish political leaders have invested a lot of energy into looted art in Europe. And that’s a worthwhile cause. Yet this is a far more compelling issue. The archive contains the history of a Jewish community. It matters far more than a Klimt painting. Sadly, the priorities are those of a secular Ashkenazi leadership that is uninterested in the Iraqi Jewish archive because it’s Sephardi and religious.
“This is Jewish communal property. Iraq stole it and kept it hidden away in a basement. Now that we’ve managed to reclaim it, it would be like returning stolen goods back to the thief,” Urman told JTA on Friday.
It’s exactly like it. Meanwhile here’s the bizarre anti-Semitic justification on the Iraqi side for wanting the archive. Here’s Al Arabiya’s explanation
Experts add that Israel is keen on obtaining the manuscripts in order to prove their claim that the Jews had built the Tower of Babel as part of its attempt to distort the history of the Middle East for its own interests.
Harold Rhode, who discovered the trove while working as a Defense Department policy analyst assigned to Iraq’s transitional government, said he is “horrified” to think the material would be returned when it had been “stolen by the government of Iraq from the Jewish community.”
“It would be comparable to the U.S. returning to the German government Jewish property that had been looted by the Nazis,” he told The Jewish Week.
It’s exactly like it.
I don’t expect Tillerson to care. Between McMaster at the NSC, Mattis on Defense and Tillerson, foreign policy is under the control of the usual Islam Firsters who are very concerned with Muslim feelings, particularly in the oil states, and very little else. And so the old Obama plan to turn over stolen Jewish religious items to a hostile Islamic regime is moving forward.
But President Trump can and should block the move. It’s the right thing to do. And Jewish activists should make that case.
If at the end the State Department’s decision cannot be overcome by President Trump’s executive veto (or whatever it is called in American politics), we can safely say that this decision is motivated more by malice than stupidity.
As before in 2013, there is a petition (possibly still the same one) which you should all sign, demanding that the artifacts do not return to Iraq.
Please sign and share the petition.