If not with Iraq’s expulsion of its Jews in 1951, then certainly with Iraq’s open theft of the artifacts of Iraqi Jewry in 1984, Iraq has lost all rights to them.
There is a threeway dispute between Iraq, the US and the Jewish community worldwide over the ownership of Jewish archives that originated in Iraq. Actually, it is a twoway dispute, since the US has sided with Iraq, ignoring the history and provenance of these archives.
When Israel declared independence in 1948, Iraq declared war on Israel and attacked the fledgling nation. The Iraqi Jewish citizenry fell under fear and attack, too. In 1950-1951, Iraq was only too happy to expel its Jewish population, which had more or less found a home in Iraq for more some 2,400 years. Critical detail: When Iraq’s Jews were expelled, they were allowed only one suitcase. Ask yourself how much of your community’s belongings you could cram into a single suitcase of clothing and other necessities.
Flash forward to Oct. 11, 2013. That is when America’s National Archives began an exhibit of Iraqi Jewish artifacts.
Make that stolen Iraqi Jewish artifacts. Stolen from the Jewish community forced out of the country some 60 years earlier. Stolen, specifically, by Saddam Hussein in 1984 when his thugs came to the last remaining synagogue in Iraq and carted off its long-treasured, communal scrolls, records and books. It was robbery, plain and simple.
Nonetheless, the US says it will return the archives to Iraq — not to the Jewish people, and not to ex-Iraqi Jewry, to whom these artifacts rightly belong.
Would the US sanction an Italian invasion of the Vatican and the robbery of the Catholic archives therein? Of course not, and there is no more reason for the US to sanction the return of these Jewish archives, stolen in Iraq, to Iraq.
Meanwhile, the successors of Saddam Hussein hold the exact same attitude toward Jews as the Iraqi regime in 1948 and its successors. Jews were fit for one thing: to be expelled, embarrassed, denied equality. What better way to show this than by stealing the Jewish community’s records and legacy? For all its animosity toward Saddam Hussein’s regime, the current rulers in Iraq share one thing in common with him: the need to put Arab honor above the integrity of a non-Arab minority. Shame on Iraq then, shame on Iraq now. Why the US sees fit to be complicit in this thievery and perverted definition of honor, over and above a most elementary ethical norm — thou shalt not steal — is beyond us.
About 20 Jews still live in Iraq. The vast majority of the post-1948, expelled Iraqi Jewry and its descendants live elsewhere. It is to one of these two groups, or to an international Jewish museum, that these artifacts should be turned over.
The current Iraqi regime or its predecessors destroyed its minority Jewish community. Destroyers do not deserve to own the legacy, the heritage, of the community that it destroyed.
Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News